What could you do with an Innovation Committee?

In their post “How Boards Can Innovate”, Michael Useem, Dennis Carey, and Ram Charan make the case that in corporations, while product innovation is not the purview of the Board of Directors, strategies and structure clearly are.

That division of labor is not so different from nonprofit organizations, where rendering services is the job of the staff, and the structure and strategies remain the job of the board. So how does a for-profit board incorporate innovation?

A very quick look at major corporations show that corporate boards frequently have innovation committees. From Procter & Gamble to Acxiom, corporations have instituted innovation committees that are generally charged with oversight of innovations and new product development. They act as advisors to staff in reviewing innovations, and act as advisors to the rest of the board, helping them to understand the new innovations being proposed.

Wellpoint Corporation has an interesting variation. Wellpoint renamed the planning committee of the board. It’s now the Strategic Innovation Committee,

“to assist the Board in discharging its responsibilities relating to various strategic issues identified by the Board from time to time, including the Company’s long-term plans and its ongoing investment in technology and targeted areas strategic to the Company’s interests.”

Fascinating! The formerly titled planning committee is charged with innovation.

What might this mean for a nonprofit board? innovation and planning scrabble pieces

According to Merriam-Webster:

Innovation is: 1) the introduction of something new; 2) a new idea, method, or device

Planning is: the act or process of making or carrying out plans; specifically: the establishment of goals, policies, and procedures for a social or economic entity.

In other words, we might conceive of planning as figuring out how to execute an idea or a concept, whereas innovation is seeking out new ideas or strategies, and bringing something new to the table. Of course, an innovation committee will also plan, but a planning committee doesn’t automatically imply innovation. The word innovation itself implies searching out new, possibly disruptive ideas, and considering whether they may be applicable to the organization.

If, as Hildy Gottleib maintains, language matters, then the name of a committee can influence how the members view themselves. Just as potently, it can influence how the rest of the organization views the work of that committee.

It is exciting. It is forward-looking. It is ‘out-of-the-box.’

We’ve already changed the name of the Fundraising Committee to Development Committee, because raising resources is a process of developing relationships.

How about changing planning to innovation?

What might that make possible for your organization?

Have some thoughts to share on this subject?  Get in touch with me at sdetwiler@detwiler.com.