Chief Information Officer

University of Chicago Booth School of Business CIO on Creating a Culture of Innovation

Kevin Boyd, Chief Information Officer, University of Chicago Booth School of Business, described what it takes to foster a culture of innovation in his keynote presentation to Argyle’s CIO membership at the 2017 Chief Information Officer Leadership Forum: Data Strategy & Innovation in Chicago on Feb. 28. In his presentation, “Creating a Culture of Innovation,” Boyd discussed some of the biggest pitfalls to innovation, and how organizations can overcome these challenges.

According to Boyd, innovation is a top priority for many organizations, yet few organizations understand exactly what innovation means.

For many organizations, innovation refers strictly to identifying a problem and finding a new way to resolve it. However, innovation and problem solving are not interchangeable terms, and organizations must be able to identify the differences between these terms to foster a culture of innovation.

“A lot of the time, people talk about innovation in organizations, but what they’re really talking about is finding the little problems and fixing them,” Boyd said. “Innovation tends to be about solving the problems that not everyone sees. [The problems] aren’t always that obvious.”

To date, many innovations have transformed the way that people connect with one another and the world around them.

“A lot of the time, people talk about innovation in organizations, but what they’re really talking about is finding the little problems and fixing them.”

For instance, Boyd pointed out that the desktop computer enhanced information processing, enabling individuals to streamline many tasks. He also described how cameras have evolved over the years and now enable individuals to capture images digitally from any location, at any time.

“Many innovations have really changed what was possible at the time they came out,” Boyd noted. “They changed the way we communicated, entertained, cooked and consumed information.”

The Apple iPad represents one of the biggest innovations, and for good reason. It transformed the way many individuals consume content and helped create a new market as well.

“By creating a digital content consumption device, [Apple] created an enormous market,” Boyd said. “The innovative iPad disrupted the Netbook market.”

Ultimately, to develop a culture of innovation, an organization must be ready to embrace innovation challenges.

Failure is common for innovators, and an organization that encourages employees to try new things may be better equipped than its rivals to drive ongoing innovation.

“Many innovations have really changed what was possible at the time they came out.”

On the other hand, an organization that strives for perfection is unlikely to foster innovation. In fact, this organization may struggle to gain ground on its rivals both now and in the future.

“If failure is not an option, innovation is not an option. Innovation is an inherently risky activity, and most entrepreneurs do not succeed the first time,” Boyd pointed out. “A fear of failure is often the death of innovation in many organizations.”

Boyd also indicated a culture of innovation rarely, if ever, can develop overnight. Instead, an organization must allocate time and resources to promote innovation at all levels and ensure employees receive consistent support day after day.

Many organizations have fostered innovation by developing collaborative teams that feature a broad range of workers. These teams include employees with knowledge spread across an organization.

A diverse team can make a world of difference for an organization that wants to promote innovation. This group often can become greater than the sum of its parts, as teammates can embrace varying perspectives and explore new ways to help an organization grow.

In addition, innovative organizations understand their target audiences. These organizations recognize that their employees will brainstorm ideas together, but external insights are needed to help an organization accomplish its immediate and long-term goals.

An organization that engages its target audience consistently can reach out to audience members for feedback. As a result, this organization can learn from its target audience and move closer to building long-lasting partnerships with audience members.

Boyd said sponsorship can play an important role in developing a culture of collaboration too.

If an organization can gain support from employees and executives alike, it will be able to foster unparalleled collaboration. This teamwork may help an organization stand out from the competition as well as develop unique products and services that its rivals simply cannot match.

Although innovation is paramount for organizations of all sizes, it is essential for organizations to learn about the challenges associated with it.

Innovation hurdles may limit organization growth, particularly if an organization shies away from challenges. Comparatively, an innovative organization will make mistakes and learn from its errors.

Lastly, an innovative organization takes an entrepreneur-style approach to innovation.

As part of this approach, employees will think outside the box and maintain an open mind about how an organization operates. Therefore, employees at an innovative organization will keep trying to find ways to drive improvements – regardless of challenges they encounter along the way.

“In most cases, [a serial entrepreneur] tried something and kept trying,” Boyd stated. “For many entrepreneurs, they keep trying.”

Visit Argyle Executive Forum's 2019 CIO Leadership Forum: Embracing the Digital Revolution, from Information to Transformation in Chicago, IL on Oct 17, 2019

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