If the CEO needs the entire company to get behind an idea with major money bet on it, whose help does he or she need? Hello, CCO!

The topic is transformational innovation — basically, a tough, serious commitment by corporate leadership to products and service that customers are not yet demanding.

Few executives place big bets on innovation transformation, according to Harvard Business Review authors in the May 2012 issue. Companies studied show only about 10% of company “innovation" budgeting is in not-yet-demanded innovation, a 20% ventured on carefully chosen “adjacent" business opportunity, and a dominant 70% slid into safe changes in core business.

CEOs are edgy about the potential of transformational innovation primarily because of the hard truth that to do different things means a company has to do things differently, say the HBR authors.

While the role of corporate communication is not called out in the HBR article, it's a no-brainer easily inferred from the companies—IBM, P&G, Samsung, Merck and GE—cited by authors Bansi Nagji and Geoff Tuff as having strategized successful corporate innovations that transformed the course of new and sustainable business.

Realizing the potential of high-yield, long-term transformational innovation requires getting everyone on board with top management's belief in the prospect of payoff in unchartered territory, of investing what's known in the discovery, the benefits of future success.

“Managers should agree on an appropriate ambition level for innovation and find common language to describe it," the authors note, and “leaders must communicate clearly and relentlessly about innovation goals and processes."

While CCOs are not among the curious list of those cited as having skills particularly influential in transforming innovation (“designers, cultural anthropologists, scenario planners, and analysts who are comfortable with ambiguous data"), if the company needs a culture of doing things differently, with stakeholder support to CEO vision in bold new areas, who you gonna call?

By E. Bruce Harrison
Chairman, EnviroComm International