The Innovation Framework
Innovation Questions

The Key Questions Every Innovation Expert Should Ask

Responsible for innovation? This is the ultimate list of innovation questions for when you speak with the CEO and Senior Team.

Over the years, I’ve developed a list of innovation questions I’ve found helpful for driving conversations with business leaders across multiple units and the CEO. These questions can help you to assess both the organization’s appetite for change and the current way innovation is managed. Obviously, you won’t employ all of these questions for each conversation but they will, hopefully, serve as an inspiration to spark substantive dialogues.

Innovation Questions for Business Leaders

  • How do you go about innovation in your organization today?
  • What process and tools do you use (beyond brainstorming on a whiteboard)?
  • How do you ensure that promising new ideas are not prematurely shot down?
  • How do you ensure that multiple perspectives are heard in the innovation effort?
  • How do you convene cross-functional teams to drive innovation?
  • What capabilities do your leaders need in order to be more innovative?
  • How do you build these innovation capabilities?
  • How do you ensure that new ideas cross the “innovation chasm” and actually see the light of day?
  • How do you ensure that new ideas do not get labeled as “project team ideas” and thereby rejected by the wider organization?
  • How do you draw the creative capacity of the wider organization into the innovation process?
  • How do you measure progress on new ideas?
  • What KPIs do you use to track innovation?
  • How do you get under the skin of your customers to really surface latent needs?
  • What are your “known unknowns” and “unknown unknowns” when it comes to your customers?

Innovation Questions for the CEO

You can ask the above questions plus:

  • How do you shift a culture of “yes, but” to “yes, and”?
  • How do you build truly innovative, out-of-the-box ideas?
  • How do you even know where the box is?
  • How do you effectively prototype, striking the right balance between speed, resources deployed and learning?
  • How do you build ideas that are scalable (diminishing marginal unit of input for each marginal unit of output)?
  • What is your philosophy on innovation and, more specifically, what do you see as your role in bridging the internal and external perspective?
  • As CEO, how do you drive innovation? 
  • What role do you see HR, IT and Finance playing in bringing about innovation? (Important because they need to be involved to move breakthrough ideas forward.)
  • How do you go about business model innovation?
  • What is your organizational philosophy on innovation?
  • In what is it grounded?
  • What insights are you importing into the organization?
  • Who are the ambassadors embedding innovation in the organization?
  • Do you feel your company leans more towards a “collaboration” or “competition” mindset?
  • What is your approach to innovation?
  • Does the organization allow for individual creativity to occur and then moments to share, compare and plus on each other’s work? Or do teams work together from the beginning on innovation concepts?
  • What’s your experience been with innovation to date and why do you believe in it?
  • What would industry disruption look like for your organization?
  • If you zoom in on the internal, how do you go from looking forward (future trends in your industry) to coming up with concrete products/services you can prototype and launch?
  • It sounds like you already have a process. Does it work well?
  • Did I hear you right that you have innovation teams? How do you inject the business input into their activities?
  • Where do you see the biggest innovation opportunities? For instance, what would it take to get to market in half the time?
  • How would you feel about establishing campfires of innovation within the organization that start to embed a common methodology to address leading and lagging indicators?
  • What are the consequences of a “business as usual” stance?
  • What are the key industry trends, beyond the known knowns and known unknowns?
  • What is your 3, 10 and 20-year customer and industry vision? Regarding this industry vision, where is value going to be created/destroyed along the industry value chain?
  • How are these reflected in your portfolio of strategic initiatives?
  • What are potential black swan events and how do you plan for them (if such a thing is even possible)?
  • What impact will emerging technologies have on your industry value chain?
  • Who will be the disruptors? Who will be in the winners and the losers?
  • How is the distribution of Horizon 1, 2 and 3 initiatives in your portfolio of initiatives?
  • What is business model innovation and do you go about business model innovation?
  • Should you be an industry shaper or a fast follower? Or both (depending on industry segment)?
  • How do you organize for game-changing disruption (given that the natural response of the business will be to throttle it)?
  • Which leaders do you need to bring into an effort to explore the topic of multi-year disruption?
  • Which Board Members are personally excited about driving an exploration of a multiyear disruption journey?
  • What previous efforts in the field of framing a multi-year disruption journey have succeeded/failed in your company?
  • What can you learn from these successes and failures?

If you enjoyed this post, please check out Spark A Board-Level Innovation Conversation, where I share my list of Board-level imperative questions.

Amber Bezahler

B-school Meets D-School

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