What do CEOs want?

Business Week online posted an article on May 18 purporting to discuss “what CEOs want.” The article was written by Frank Kern a Sr. VP for IBM Global Services reporting on a study done by IBM. Remembering my recent post on research studies, this may be another one which draws conclusions that may not be valid.

According to IBM’s survey of 1,500 CEOs, “creativity” is the most important attribute they value in their team members. They are suggesting that the value of this attribute goes beyond just R&D or product development leaders, and is now of top priority in all team members reporting to the CEO. The argument is that CEOs now value disruption in all aspects of the business model. Could be. But …

I have worked with hundreds of CEOs over the last 15 years discussing innovation issues. My “research” suggests that most CEOs value creativity because they are themselves creative. And people who are like you are often the people you are most comfortable with. However, that does not necessarily lead to disruption. Neither does creativity alone.

In talking with several hundred CEOs myself and asking them the specific question as to what is keeping their company from being more innovative, lack of creativity or new ideas from their team is mentioned less than 1% of the time. I suggest that IBM’s research, like too much research, elicited the answers either the interviewer or the respondent wanted, rather than what is needed.

I don’t necessarily completely doubt that many CEOs think they want more creative ideas and disruptive ideas. However evidence suggests two things:

  1. They won’t allow the disruption to occur
  2. And a lack of good ideas is not the problem in most companies

Innovation is about taking ideas and doing something with them. Lack of creativity is not the problem, execution of something is.

Mitch

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