The Biggest Hinderance to Innovation in an Organization is…

The CEO!
Bruce Nussbaum, the person that I see playing an important role in bridging the gap between design/innovation and business, offers up his “Top Ten Innovation Mistakes”. While a good read in general, I find his first point is by far the most important and salient.

1) CEO sloth. There’s no pretty word for failure to focus on innovation by top management. Every major innovation index, including the new one coming out by Business Week in 08, shows significantly higher rates of return for companies that innovate. Yet CEO’s consistently mouth the word without providing the leadership and resources to make it happen. CEOs need to make the time to lead the innovation movement in their companies.

I find it is often on the desk of the CEO, or main decision maker, where a great innovative idea will either live or die. Often leaders of companies know what they need to do, but often fail in the follow through with a lack of support and in particular when allocating budgets.
Thus it is of vital importance that the designer/creative/agent of change works directly or very closely with this CEO or decision maker. In this case the designer needs to understand his/her role, and have the right skills to be an influencer in strategic Design decisions that need to be made by senior management.
CEOs need to realize this, and take steps to have such senior designers to be part of their senior management. They have to realize that, just like Accounting, Human Resource and Logistics, etc., Design (with a capital D) needs to be a function within an organization. More importantly, CEOs need to know that managing Design requires specific skills that should be hired should the organization not possess them.
At the end of the day making a decision is still the CEO’s responsibility, and deciding to go with a more conservative, proven, or me-too product instead of something a forward looking Designer recommends is not anyone’s fault but the CEO’s.

4 Comments
  • csven

    January 8, 2008 at 5:28 am Reply

    My series of blog entries, blog responses, and LinkedIn answers on related topics (mostly regarding Apple/Steve Jobs) coupled with a conversation I had with my sister (a social worker studying for her Masters in sociology) about Thomas Kuhn has led me to another conclusion that goes beyond the CEO. And I don’t think Nussbaum will see it.
    Think about it. What’s the *real* hindrance here? Think basic. Think… infrastructure. 😉

  • drew kora

    January 9, 2008 at 11:38 pm Reply

    I concur, DT. The CEO’s job is set the pace and the culture for the organization. I mean, when the design is good or bad, that’s the designers triumph or failure. But if design isn’t part of the organization to begin with that’s a leadership problem.
    Interestingly enough, a lot of the buzz at CES this week is around many companies’ renewed focus on the importance of design. I read an article that said around 2000 Dell only had a handful (I think maybe 6) designers in house and there was a surge to get rid of the design department all together! The result of that thinking? Huge, ugly, noisy, space-wasting black towers for PCs uglifying homes and offices everywhere…oddly placed USB ports, chords and chords and more chords. This year the emphasis seems to be back on design.
    Chalk that up to consumers who want better design. More CEOs need to get on the wagon and endorse it as a good business model.

  • Mario Vellandi

    January 29, 2008 at 10:20 am Reply

    Howdy, haven’t been by for a while but I suppose it’d be a good place to jump in with a comment. Yes, design/engineering/technology agents have a very important role in top management just as other functions, because we’re talking about the existing and future revenue of the company folks! Everything else is operational support. Even if Marketing is afforded existence beyond promotional activities, the lack of design/innovation folks at the table creates a larger turnaround time for valuable input and feedback, not to mention the proposal of projects for which the backing of a top leader is needed.
    So much to be said; ah well, so it is…

  • DT

    January 29, 2008 at 10:39 am Reply

    @csven, you are right on the money as usual!
    @drew, I think if I am not wrong, Mr Dell has finally realised that he has a problem in the way he runs his business. From what I understand, he has also realised that design has the answer to his problems.
    @mario, good to hear from you and great points. Please keep in touch?

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