Ten years ago (five?) the role of “Chief Innovation Officer” was almost unheard-of.  Now hardly a week goes by without a firm announcing the appointment of so-and-so to that role and title.

But what exactly Is a “CINO” and where do (where should) they come from?

Stepping back a moment to look at the composition of the more conventional inhabitants of a Law Land C-suite, JD’s are grossly over-represented–certainly compared to similarly sized companies in the corporate wild, and I don’t know what other baseline should be  used.  Honestly, people, what on earth does a JD degree have to do with marketing, operations, finance, or IT?  (Yes, I know the answer is that JD’s confer credibility on the degree owner in the eyes of the partners, but how condescending is that to your partner-colleagues?  It assumes they can’t distinguish the capable from the incompetent on the merits of performance.)

Still, we know what the presumptive qualifications are for, say, a CFO: Probably an MBA and/or CPA degree, a background in the Big 4 or an F1000 or the consulting industry, and far greater proficiency with Excel than PowerPoint.  If you’re thinking it’s hard to know what the equivalent baseline might be for a CINO, you are not alone, and now Harvard Business Review has the article for you: “What Kind of Chief Innovation Officer Does  Your Company Need?”  

To begin with, big corporates have increasing familiarity with CINO’s: According to Egon Zehnder, 29% of the F500 now have such a role.  But, they hasten to add,

“a standard definition of it has yet to emerge. The job’s responsibilities vary a lot, depending upon the company, the business challenges, and the backgrounds of the people filling the roles. Those people include everyone from seasoned executives to one-time academics, star inventors, former investment bankers, creative heads, and founders of start-ups.”

First, they advise (no surprise) figuring out just what your objectives are for your innovation initiative.  “Innovation,” like “strategy,” comes in a wide variety of forms.  Before you can figure out what you want your CINO to look like, you have to determine what you hope them to achieve.

Our HBR authors identify six different species.


These are big thinkers who would dismiss anything that doesn’t constitute “the next big thing” as not worthy of being called “innovative.”  Think quiet souls, lab coats, multiple degrees.  They’re fond of spending their time looking for the right question to ask (a true gift, don’t get me wrong–if you don’t believe me, you need to spend more time with 8-year-olds), but not necessarily the most efficacious contribution to a for-profit enterprise.

On the other hand, if you’re in the market for true inflection-point/step-change advances, they may be just what the doctor ordered.


The reverse of researchers, in that they’re all about stuff that works now.  Theories and hypotheses may be great, but in the meantime I’m going to keep tweaking this process until it’s as optimized as can be.  (Trial and error plays a large, and heroic, part in this.)  If you’re pursuing incremental, marginal improvements, engineers are your folks.


Investors may be reformed VC’s or startup alumni. In this context, it does not mean they come with a bankroll they’re prepared to drop on your firm.  For them, growth, not innovation, is the end goal; innovation may be the route to getting there.  As you’d expect, they tend towards the numerically analytic, data-driven, and financially astute.

The downside of the investor mindset can be an undue short-termism; they can dismiss large and actually transformational initiatives as taking far too long to deliver results (even if those results could be dramatic).

Related Articles

Email Delivery

Get Our Latest Articles Delivered to your inbox +

Sign-up for email

Be the first to learn of Adam Smith, Esq. invitation-only events, surveys, and reports.

Get Our Latest Articles Delivered to Your Inbox

Like having coffee with Adam Smith, Esq. in the morning (coffee not included).

Oops, we need this information
Oops, we need this information
Oops, we need this information

Thanks and a hearty virtual handshake from the team at Adam Smith, Esq.; we’re glad you opted to hear from us.

What you can expect from us:

  • an email whenever we publish a new article;
  • respect and affection for our loyal readers. This means we’ll exercise the strictest discretion with your contact info; we will never release it outside our firm under any circumstances, not for love and not for money. And we ourselves will email you about a new article and only about a new article.

Welcome onboard! If you like what you read, tell your friends, and if you don’t, tell us.

PS: You know where to find us so we invite you to make this a two-way conversation; if you have an idea or suggestion for something you’d like us to discuss, drop it in our inbox. No promises that we’ll write about it, but we will faithfully promise to read your thoughts carefully.