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While executives recognize the need for innovation, few truly understand what innovation means for the organization. Rapidly shifting customer demands and corporate environments laser-focused on short-term results pose significant challenges to a sustainable cycle of enterprise innovation. Faced with these challenges, many executives have realized their organizations simply aren’t built to sustain long-term innovation, prompting senior leadership to consider appointing a sole leader to guide innovation projects throughout the business.

But while empowering a single innovation champion sounds nice, it brings its own set of challenges.

The Board of Directors and senior leadership need to know innovation initiatives differ from new product development and research and development, according to Harvard Business Review (HBR). Both groups will need to have a public commitment to innovation, a budget to fund discrete innovation projects, a sustainable framework for new ventures, and the operational capacity to support the activities of the innovation leader.

Executives know innovation champions must look beyond the short-term goals of the business and, at times, counterbalance their organizations’ instinct to reject creativity. In many cases, the core responsibilities executives currently have don’t allow for the time or ability to empower innovation, even within their own departments. A “core innovator,” however, can operate with less scrutiny in areas such as enterprise regulations and metrics when compared to the roles of other executives. They can facilitate innovation by establishing their own mission and best practices.

However, the path to innovation is often intertwined with risk and obstacles. For instance, a business unit can create disruptive projects, but the right tools either aren’t available or are not used to measure performance. A business group can present a creative idea, but the idea doesn’t allow for the flexibility to deviate from the plan.

In order for business executives to establish this new leader as a team member, it’s critical CEOs ensure certain characteristics, skills and responsibilities of the role are properly defined.

Innovation is a Team Sport

Top organizations make innovation the responsibility of the entire company, not just of a single innovation leader or champion. A chief innovator lays the foundation for business transformations to occur through encouragement, inspiration and coordination. As executives hire or empower an individual for the role, here are few key qualities to consider:

    • Rather than appointing senior leaders, look for curious individuals who gather and share their inspiration and insight. While it’s natural for executives to defend their silos, innovation requires clear communication, transparency and constant collaboration.
    • Hiring managers should ask how the job candidate made connections in and outside of a former business. This will help determine whether the individual used their skills and insight to advance innovative projects.
  • Find out whether the candidate gathered tools or established methods to remove barriers to innovation, developed a common language for innovation and a culture that reinforces these efforts.

Of all those traits, curiosity and creativity reign supreme. Innovation leaders must remain cognizant of the business environment and foresee the future so they can help the business grow.  While the CEO creates the vision for the next decade and addresses the immediate needs of the business, the innovation leader takes charge of the vision by taking calculated risks to create a space for creativity and inventions so the company reaches its targets and success.

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Geoff Wilson helps companies find, build and grow their next big thing. His passion for entrepreneurship started at age 16 when he founded a computer store in a shopping mall in Sarasota, Florida. Since then, he's founded eight more companies, creating hundreds of jobs and tens of millions of dollars in value.