Finding Innovation`s Sweet Spot

By Brian P. Watson  |  Posted 07-28-2009

Over the past few years, some of the most interesting conversations I have had with CIOs and industry experts have centered on innovation.

That shouldn't come as a big surprise. Who doesn't like talking about creativity and new ways to accomplish old goals? In an arena where the status quo often dominates, innovation should be top of mind for any IT leader.

The good news is, it is. The bad news, though, is that in these tough times, the whole concept of innovation can become intimidating. With so much pressure on CIOs, how can they justify spending time and money on initiatives that might well fail or deliver little value to the business?

A big problem, as Sam Greengard points out in his article, is that CIOs often identify innovation as something it's not: some brand-new, earth-shaking technology that will redefine the way business gets done.

As some of the top experts on innovation told him, CIOs get tripped up in a number of myths around creating a truly creative culture. One of those myths is that innovation lies outside of the IT shop.

Larry Bonfante, CIO of the United States Tennis Association (USTA), isn't buying it. As he writes in his column: "Innovation isn't some sort of mystical silver bullet that will solve all of our problems. Nor is it some new technology that we can buy and implement. Innovation is about creatively leveraging the tools and processes at your disposal to drive business value."

Scott Anthony is another expert who doesn't believe the hype. In his new book, The Silver Lining: An Innovation Playbook for Uncertain Times, Anthony makes the case for focusing on innovation in the recession. Check out an excerpt from the book, in which he describes just why innovation could work some magic for your company.

Social media is one area where CIOs are looking to do things differently. Not long ago, most CIOs viewed tools such as blogs, wikis and internal social networks as "nice to haves," not "must-haves." It's hard to argue with their thinking: Without a strong business case or an idea of just how much they'd improve business processes and productivity, many of these tools seemed likely to find a resting place in the emerging technology graveyard.

But that's all changed. Maybe it's the cost advantages. Perhaps social media tools truly are productivity boosters. CIOs are finding real benefits from these initiatives, as Elizabeth Bennett illustrates in her feature on Web 2.0 in the enterprise. If these tools are providing results for companies such as Cisco, Dell and Booz Allen Hamilton, don't you think they're worth a shot at your firm?

Yes or no, it's important to remember Bonfante's "silver bullet" theory. Innovation may help provide competitive advantages in the long run, but it won't be a panacea for the problems facing CIOs today.

Current and aspiring IT leaders should check out Art Langer's take on how CIOs should evaluate their current standing. Having a clear understanding of your perception in the executive suite, as well as the effectiveness of your IT strategy and structure--not to mention your own aspirations--can help you find your way through these turbulent times.

Keeping a close, personal check on your own strategy, while also finding innovative ways to drive the business forward--that's a very tall order. But no one said this year would be easy. And it's exactly what your boss expects of you.

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