We hate to be the ones to tell you this, but we’ll just come right out and say it:

If you’re a CEO or some other “C-Something” executive, chances are you’re not innovating.

That’s right! The fact is that innovation is not really happening in the C-Suite. It’s not even happening in the IT department. While the C-Suite and IT are leading stakeholders in innovation projects, most of the ideas are coming from somewhere else in the company.

Stats from the 2018 TIBCO CXO Innovation Survey of more than 600 C-Suite Execs, VPs, Directors and Managers bare this fact out. When asked where innovation is taking place inside their companies, here’s what respondents had to say:

  • 63% of innovation is happening in areas other than the C-Suite or IT Department Finance, Centers of Excellence, and Operations.
  • At the same time, respondents said that C-Level Execs and IT deliver only around one-third of their company’s innovations.

An HBR article titled Data From 3.5 Million Employees Shows How Innovation Really Works also found some interesting insight on the origins of innovation. Drawing upon actual user data from ‘idea management’ system provider Spigit, the article notes that no matter what type of innovation you’re after — incremental or disruptive, product or process the type of company and the industry you’re in don’t really matter.

Innovation happens where ideas happen the more ideas, the better. According to the research noted in the article, the key variable that impacted innovation across all companies was what the authors referred to as “ideation rate.” This is defined “as the number of ideas approved by management divided by the total number of active users in the (Spigit) system.” In less academic terms, the researchers discovered that the more ideas you empower your people to generate, the more innovative your company will be, leading to higher growth and higher net income.

Now, here’s what you can do about it as a C-Level executive or leader. Author, consultant and customer experience guru Micah Solomon put it this way in a recent Forbes article:

“Although innovative leaps do sometimes come directly from the CEO, this is less common than business profiles and biographies make it seem. More commonly, successful leaders drive innovation via their people: By inspiring and sustaining their employees in ways that promote this essential discipline.”

The article, titled How To Build A Culture Of Innovation And Turn Every Employee into an Innovation Powerhouse, provides some useful tips on how to tap into innovation potential across your company by getting more employees to participate. Here’s a quick look:

  1. Encourage innovation in non-obvious areas.
  2. Encourage the search for accidental innovation.
  3. Encourage an attitude of dissatisfaction.
  4. Strive to build a blame-free culture.

You can read the full Forbes article here.

Finally, if you’re looking for a little inspiration, see how Adidas teamed up with Silicon Valley start-up Carbon to bring the world’s first 3D-printed sneaker to market. It’s a great story on how innovation happens, view it below: