The woman who created Gartner’s ‘hype cycle’ just simplified innovation for CIOs

Jackie Fenn gives a keynote at the CIO Association of Canada Peer Forum on breakthrough thinking

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Gartner innovation CIOCAN Peer Forum

She created what’s known as research firm Gartner Inc.’s famous “hype cycle” — a way to explain how technology is adopted first with excitement, then disillusionment, and eventually enlightenment — so Jackie Fenn is in a good position to know how long the journey to IT innovation will take.

Fenn, a longtime analyst with Gartner who is based in Medford, Mass., was the keynote speaker at last week’s CIO Association of Canada Peer Forum, an annual gathering of technology and business executives in Richmond Hill. Innovation was a key theme because, over the last few years, CIOs have been more focused than ever before on contributing more value to their organization than simply been seen as a drain on resources.

Fenn suggested that while there are many tactical and strategic ways to foster innovation, CIOs really need to channel their inner armchair psychologist. “The goal that drives most people tends to be emotional,” she said, adding that approaching it this way helped transcend the stereotypes we might have about how ready certain organizations are to embrace new ideas. “Startups are often thought as more innovative, for example, and collectively they are, but on their own, not necessarily.”

Before CIOs get too caught up in the brain science of innovation, Fenn’s advice was almost shockingly simple. She suggested innovation become as critical a part of the job description as anything else an IT manager or network administrator does.

“If people are expected to be innovative, they probably will be,” she said. Of course, lots of companies corral people into a room occasionally, talk airily about wanting to be more innovative, and then people go back to their cubicles and do nothing. Fenn said followup is fundamental. “If you ask them to offer an innovative idea once, keep asking, and by the third month they’ll probably have something.”

Fostering innovation, in other words, is not so much a project but a practice, or an ongoing habit for good managers. Some other tips from Fenn:

  • Look for the “innovation moment” by setting aside time in regular meetings to generate useful ideas
  • Create themes around innovation — perhaps process improvement, or new ways to connect and collaborate with customers — to focus innovation activities
  • Put opposites together — the “clash of ideas” is usually where innovation begins, she said.

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