A Prototype of the Successful Innovation Leader

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21 October 2014
Michael Fitzgerald
Innovation is all about building prototypes, making them fail, adjusting them, and moving on quickly. So, what is the prototype for the successful senior innovation leader? How can this profile be used to make better selections when hiring for these critical positions? Continuing the Celent innovation research theme of how to make innovation work, we asked attendees at two innovation conferences to rank the critical success factors needed in senior innovation leadership positions. The purpose of this research effort was to assist with the “how” of choosing a successful innovation leader. There were four areas in the on-line survey: 1. Technical business skills 2. Leadership qualities 3. Personal attributes 4. Previous job experience. Ninety-one innovation professionals responded, 30% from financial services firms. Note that this is a very specialized respondent pool. These are the opinions of innovation practitioners about key success factors reflecting their experiences. Their outlook has been shaped by their own efforts which undoubtedly included both successes and failures. (The full report is available for download for Celent subscribers at The top items in each area are displayed below. leader skills The innovation conference attendees made some important observations about these results. First, the top ranking in the Technical business skills area was assigned to strategic planning. Innovation practitioners clearly value the cerebral activities such as reading the external environment, identifying patterns, and matching this analysis with company capabilities to determine a plan of action. In two other areas, Leadership qualities and Personal attributes, however, the more extroverted activities of vision and inspiration rose to the top. It is often difficult to find one person with such a broad range of skills and attributes. However, the conclusion based on the opinions of these innovation veterans is that the process should include an evaluation of candidates’ capabilities in both of these “head and heart” areas. A second observation dealt with Previous job experience. Previous innovation leadership experience was ranked higher than start-up and operations management experience. Practitioners place high value on the practical wisdom about innovation which is learned “on the job”. Celent expects that the number of financial services companies implementing innovation programs will increase in the near term and, consequently, the value of professionals with successful, previous senior level innovation experience will also grow. Pay levels, work environment and other incentives must be calibrated accordingly. How can these results be used in innovation programs? For individual leaders, this can be used as an input into their personal development plan. As an example, if they are strong in strategic planning, but weak in inspirational leadership, coaching activities may be worthwhile. In organizations with established core innovation teams, this can be used to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the entire group. For example, in situations where a leader lacks a critical attribute, the team may be able to compensate with increased contribution from other members. Finally, these results can be shared with a H.R. department to develop a data-driven selection process for senior innovation leaders. **************** FYI -- Topics such as innovation leadership development are discussed at our Innovation Roundtables. The next session is scheduled for November 20 in New York City. Senior innovation leaders from Banks, Insurers, and Security Firms are invited to join us. The registration details can be found here:


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