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They are the best-kept secret of the business world: a whole new breed of "C-suite" managers who wear titles such as "chief marketing officer," "director, design and brand experience," or the voguish new moniker "chief innovation officer." They are different from others before them, polymath in skill (think an entire multidisciplinary team in one person), "bipolar" in thinking (using both the left and right brain in framing problems), and eclectic in education (dual math and art majors, English lit and MBA degrees). CEOs from Citigroup to Harley-Davidson, from Google to Procter & Gamble, are empowering these managers to build radically new cultures of creativity.
Let's welcome the Champions of Innovation. In an era when Six Sigma controls no longer guarantee competitive advantage, when outsourcing to China and India is universal, when creeping commoditization of products, services, and information hammers prices, innovation is the new currency of competition. It is the key to organic growth, the lever to widen profit margins, the Holy Grail of 21st century business.
Which is why these forward-thinking leaders have so much power. They roam the vast spaces of global corporations fighting to make innovation routine, not random; central, not marginal; exciting, not scary. They educate, inspire, cajole, hire, bribe, punish, build -- all to transform their companies' cultures.
So who are they and what, exactly, are they doing? The IN25 is our directory of the top Champions of Innovation. They share many traits, but three stand out: First, they speak the language of design and user-friendliness. Second, they derive their clout directly from the top and are the CEO's consiglieri on creativity. And finally, they are mostly women. Nearly 70 percent of the Innovation Champions are female. Ponder that.
We picked five from this group of 25 to show in detail how they do it. Every one of them does many things well but one best: Each represents an archetype who builds a culture of creativity in a specific way. There is The Talent Scout, who hires the über-best and screens ideas at warp speed. The Feeder, who stimulates people's minds with a constant supply of new trends and ideas. The Mash-up Artist, who tears down silos, mixes people up, and brings in outside change agents. The Ethnographer, who studies human behavior across cultures and searches for unspoken desires that can be met with new products. The Venture Capitalist, who generates a diversified portfolio of promising ideas that translate into new products and services. Here are their stories.
By Michelle Conlin