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Chief Innovation Officers Fire the Future Growth Engine

Updated: Oct 7, 2021

Chief Innovation Officers Fire the Future Growth Engine in Innovation Era

“You can’t solve a problem on the same level that it was created. You have to rise above it to the next level.” – Albert Einstein


Innovation is the most important keyword of this era. Advances in technology have brought about rapid changes in business development. From product innovation to business model innovation, all of the business activities in the company are closely related to innovation. This article explains:

· The concept of Chief Innovation Officers and its significance in leading the 21st-century innovation era;

· In the context of globalization, the chief innovation officers' strategic responsibilities in the company;

· Future Chief Innovation Officers based on the concept of China Embracing Innovation.

1. The Born of Chief Innovation Officers is the Requirement for the Business Development

In the past ten years, due to the rapid advancement of information technology, the genes of the digital economy have penetrated all walks of life. Digital technology promotes the reorganization of business processes and production methods. The digitization of production factors and production links further promotes the optimization of the allocation of factor resources such as technology, business, talents, and capital. The digital economy puts forward new requirements for innovation and development.

In order to keep up with the continuous pressure of burgeoning business models in the digital economy, more and more companies are hiring CIOs to strengthen corporate innovation of core products and services and to lead corporate development. In 2009, Forbes published a report entitled "You Need A Chief Innovation Officer". In this business report, although many senior executives stated that they are committed to innovation, there is evidence that they have almost no consensus on what innovation strategy is, and no dedicated senior manager takes the strategic responsibility for innovation within the organization. As a result, due to the lack of knowledge, understanding, and personal qualities to promote innovation, internal innovation ideas are exhausted, and innovation activities are frustrated. Since then, CIOs has gradually gained attention in the business world. According to a study by Egon Zehnder, as of 2017, 29% of Fortune 500 companies have a senior innovation executive. The reason why CIOs are differentiated from top managers is that innovation connects links with different areas of enterprise development. It seamlessly links the three areas of product development and R&D, strategy formulation, and marketing. These three activities are the best places to cultivate innovation. Chief Innovation Officers (CIOs) provide a bridge for enterprises, and leaders who understand and coordinate innovation and other departments emerge in organizational management.

Chief Innovation Officers is a dynamic concept. Different from the Chief Executive Officers (CEO), Chief Financial Officers (CFO), and other leaders, which have relatively fixed job descriptions, the position of Chief Innovation Officers varies greatly in different companies and is usually composed of people from different backgrounds. This makes the activity of establishing and hiring a Chief Innovation Officer extremely innovative. The company needs to figure out what kind of innovation your company needs and what kind of people can be most innovative. The responsibilities of this job depend on the company, the business challenge, and the person’s background. Like "strategy", the word "innovation" represents different connotations for different people and enterprise development. Therefore, the position of the Chief Innovation Officer has become the first issue for enterprises to consider.

2. The Role of Chief Innovation Officers

The Chief Innovation Officer is the person designated by the company to be responsible for managing the organization’s innovation process. In some cases, it is the person who "generates new ideas but also acknowledges the innovative ideas generated by others, including internal and external personnel." The Chief Innovation Officer has always been an advocative power of company change, working hard to eliminate the traditional thinking mode that is common in company operations and adjust the company's processes for innovation or integration. The Chief Innovation Officer is responsible for discovering and supporting digital technologies to achieve corporate goals and promote the company's overall innovation vision. In the past few decades, company managers have increasingly realized that the number of managers who understand the business or understand the technology is not enough. The company also needs a creative person who can see the value of emerging technologies and push the enterprise to the next level. This is just like what Einstein said, "You cannot solve the problem at the same level as the problem was created, you must surpass it to a new level." Innovation is the only way to overcome the obstacles to an enterprise’s development.

In addition to the understanding of the Chief Innovation Officer itself, we can also reflect the uniqueness of the Chief Innovation Officer from the comparison with other corporate executives. First of all, the Chief Information Officer is the senior executive who is responsible for the planning and integration of the enterprise's internal information systems and information resources. Traditional innovation activities are centered on technical facilities and cost control. This model is based on the role of the Chief Information Officer as the gatekeeper of technology and the protector of corporate information assets. However, the Chief Innovation Officer tends to look at information technology inward rather than outwardly looking at customer needs.

Second, as the highest person in charge of technology in the enterprise, the Chief Technology Officer focuses on long-term and overall technical issues. CTOs pay more attention to the development of innovative products and services externally (product commoditization). The way to distinguish between the chief information officer and CTOs is that the former solves operational problems by acquiring and transforming existing technologies, while the latter is usually develops new technologies.

Finally, the chief marketing officer is the highest decision-maker who manages the marketing work of the enterprise. The main task is to promote growth and increase sales by developing a comprehensive marketing plan, which will increase brand awareness and help the organization gain a competitive advantage. The chief marketing officer cares about the establishment of relationships and value.

As the highest leader in the company's innovation decision-making, the Chief Innovation Officer needs to be able to adjust the integration of business strategy and innovation strategy and embed innovation in the company's DNA. Innovation is no longer a simple one or a few projects; it should be continuously promoted in a multi-sectoral collaboration. Therefore, enterprises need to constantly optimize and improve their innovation capabilities through scientific innovation management; otherwise, they will soon lose the stamina for development (Chen Jin, Song Baohua, 2017). This strategy should create a roadmap for its future because it involves information, technology, and markets. Not only that, CIOs need to establish technical cooperation contacts and identify solutions during the organization process. At the leadership level, track the application of the latest (digital) technology in this field, cultivate an innovation culture within the organization, and develop innovative talents. The benefits and risks brought by innovation should be evaluated, and growth opportunities should be analyzed. The role of the Chief Innovation Officers is still ambiguous in different industries because this title is new in the business field. From the management function, we listed the related affairs that the CIOs needs to be responsible for, as shown in Table 1. However, we must realize that the Chief Innovation Officer itself is a dynamic concept that needs to be continuously updated with the development of the enterprise.

A Chief innovation officer is no longer a simple position or title. It represents that the company will systematically promote the company’s innovation work and continuously improve corporate innovation through effective management. How to achieve innovative results in a turbulent business environment and how to determine whether a company needs an innovation leader to address problems that the company must face in its development. So, how can we better capture the value of the CIOs at the forefront of business development? ELITE Innovation College Cambridge and the Chief Innovation Officer Training and Development Program will bring you some inspiration.

3. ELITE Innovation College Cambridge & Embracing Innovation Theory

ELITE Innovation College Cambridge (EICC) was founded by Professor Li Hua, a world-renowned strategic scholar and the father of China Embracing Innovation Theory. It is an educational institution with a global perspective. The college focuses on innovative research and is committed to building a highly innovative ELITE Innovation College at the heart of the world's innovation, Cambridge. It was established in September 2015 at the St. John’s Innovation Center in Cambridge. Its history can be traced back to 2006 at the International Association for Management of Technology (IAMOT), an International Conference held at Tsinghua University in China. It was initiated by a group of outstanding management scholars in the China Association for Management of Technology (CAMOT).

Based on 30 years of academic research on China's technology strategy and innovation strategy and China's competitiveness and sustainable development, Professor Richard Li-Hua proposed the China Embracing Innovation Theory from a global, historical, philosophical, and strategic management perspective. To solve the paradox of China's sustained, high-speed, and stable economic development issue, it is important to analyze the roots of China's sustainable social, political, economic, and environmental development and explain the path of China's peaceful rise and China's innovation model.

Based on the China Embracing Innovation Theory, ELITE Innovation College Cambridge invited professors from well-known domestic universities such as Tsinghua University, professors from internationally renowned universities such as Cambridge, and industry experts, to set up a Chief Innovation Officers Training and Development Program. We try to start from corporate innovation governance and innovation management, explore the practical ways of sustainable corporate innovation from the company’s perspective. The Chief Innovation Officers Training and Development Program will integrate the knowledge system of “Chief Innovation Officers”, “China Embracing Innovation Theory” and “Comprehensive Innovation” to provide effective innovative governance models and enhance students’ global perspectives during learning, as well as promote innovation-driven development strategies to adapt to the post-epidemic era and give the chief innovation officer stronger practical significance.

The Chief Innovation Officer Training and Development Program is led by ELITE Innovation College Cambridge. At the same time, it was elaborately created and jointly launched in cooperation with Ningbo Power Source Embracing Innovation Research Institute and Sociedade Portuguesa de inovação (spi). Through providing systematic learning modules of innovation theory and practice, CIO Training and Development Program helps students with in-depth insights and effective models of innovation management. Also, it helps different types of enterprises at different development stages to plan innovation strategies and innovation mechanisms. We will also be committed to cultivating and discover the company’s senior innovation leaders, focus on the company’s innovation goals and innovation strategies, to enhance the company’s innovation capabilities and execution capabilities, stimulate the company’s innovation vitality, motivate the team’s innovative ideas and ultimately serve the company’s sustainable development strategy.

Profile of ELITE Innovation College Cambridge (EICC)

Our College

Our College was born during the pandemic with a mission to lead and push innovation. ELITE carries impact and significant connotation. ELITE is an acronym of e-learning of innovation, technology, and entrepreneurship within an O2O Innovation University in global higher education. Almost all the universities and colleges are currently delivering courses online based upon the MOOC experiences since the outbreak of Covid-19. Our intention of the establishment of ELITE O2O (online and offline) Innovative Education Platform is an exploration of an innovative education pedagogy of integrating the delivery of programs, knowledge, contents, and education ethos with a global vision embedded in the teaching and learning strategy built into the technological system of O2O innovation university.

Such a system demonstrates how various features and objectives of innovative and entrepreneurial university can be created, translated, articulated, and achieved. The distinctiveness of this system is to highlight that the teaching and learning model is decided not only with the impact of the virus but also by the nature of knowledge. Explicit knowledge is delivered online while tacit knowledge is transferred face-to-face. ELITE Innovation College Cambridge (EICC), in many respects, is regarded as a globally connected innovative and entrepreneurial university. With our forward-looking global vision, we are well-positioned with strong features in global higher education in the 21st century.

ELITE is an acronym of E-Learning of Innovation, Technology and Entrepreneurship within an O2O innovation university in global higher education. We are building four distinctive colleges based on the 15 years of scientific research and innovation accumulated by the [China Association for Management of Technology] (CAMOT) on the technology innovation platform of [ELITE Innovation College Cambridge]. Offline tutoring centers located in selected cities are closely connected. Through these colleges, at this stage, we can build strong competitiveness and core advantages together with other academic colleges of the university.

Our O2O Structures

We continue to deliver our legacy and carry forward our footprints, our research philosophy, and educational ethos and stress the organic and intrinsic linkage among attributes and/or factors between and among innovation, technology, entrepreneurship, and global leadership and their complementarities. Hence our globally-connected university with strong features has been underpinned by the four pillars to enhance the student journey and employability:

· Innovation

· Technology

· Entrepreneurship

· Global leadership

Our teaching and learning pedagogy is to explore how competitive advantage and unique set of knowledge and skills can be delivered through strategic management of innovation, technology, entrepreneurship, and global leadership and the organic linkages between and among them in business and management education and management practice.

By using our past experiences and global academic resources, we make every endeavor to convert this special knowledge into general education knowledge in the liberal arts education delivered through our well-crafted teaching and learning pedagogy in our well-established FOUR Colleges:

Camot College of Innovation

Camot College of Technology

Camot College of Entrepreneurship

Camot College of Global Leadership

For more information about this contract, please contact our Global Engagement Office at:

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