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The Hottest Job in Sports

The Sports Innovation Lab works with companies who are on offense. They're looking for an edge over the competition and they want to stay ahead of trends that are rapidly changing the sports industry.

To develop a culture of innovation (and stay on offense) many firms have hired a new kind of professional to lead: the Chief Innovation Officer.

While this concept may be new to the sports industry, other industries already have Chief Innovation Officers. We thought it would be helpful to explain what these people are hired to do. Below is how the Harvard Business Review describes the role. We've added the details that are relevant to sport in italics below each description.

Go ahead and copy/paste this into your job posting. We don't mind.

Chief Innovation Officer Job Description (HBR content with bold headings):

1. HBR: Supporting best practices. This involves scouting and standardizing market research methods for novel ideas and insights; strategic innovation; promoting open innovation; and introducing group tools and processes that encourage creative thinking.

SIL: In sports, the concept of "open innovation" is challenged by the competitive nature of team owners, leagues, athletes, and agencies. A great CIO will help break down these walls to bring together competitors who are open to sharing best practices and exploring new opportunities. Hackathons are one kind of "open innovation" tool. They create environments where challenges and vulnerabilities are exposed, and the community has an opportunity to respond. The sports business is ideally positioned to benefit from the collective wisdom of a passionate community and tap new pools of talent who dream of working in sports.

2. HBR: Developing skills. This is about training company personnel on the skills they need, and developing and applying measures to track improvements in innovation and the skills underpinning them.

SIL: Innovation is hard to measure. Skill development is not hard to measure. When people learn new terminology, master new processes, and have greater familiarity with emerging market data, you know. In the sports industry, great CIOs will push their team to attend esports events, try virtual reality and immersive media, and tour academic labs and startup companies. Their teams will get smarter, and organizations can measure that.

3. HBR: Supporting business units in new product and service initiatives. This means acting as methodology expert and facilitator for the most critical innovation teams across the company, supporting them in "raising the bar" of their aspirations. Training other managers to perform these roles also allows them to support innovation in business units.

SIL: CIOs need to review new product initiatives and bring that "outsider" perspective. Because they are not mired in the day-to-day operations of a product group, they are in a unique position to do that. In sports, checking new product development concepts is critical. Sport is driven heavily by emotion. Ownership can decide to build something without incorporating market research or challenging assumptions. New products can carry a momentum that doesn't get checked until too much money and time has been spent. CIOs in sport must provide their teams with lots of tangible examples of what else is out there. This perspective raises the bar and helps companies avoid me-too innovation.

4. HBR: Identifying new market spaces. This includes analyzing trends and market disruptions and searching for emerging new market opportunities. In some cases, they'll need to be developed at the corporate level when they do not fit into the current business units' boundaries.

SIL: The other job requirements listed here are hard and cultural. This requirement requires a different discipline; curiosity. A CIO must have a curious mind. This curiosity means the sports CIO looks to adjacent markets for inspiration. Specifically, in sport, this means looking at smart cities to inform the smart venue. Looking to the military and health care to think about athlete performance. Looking to video games to think about sports broadcasting and the future of fan experiences.

5. HBR: Helping people generate ideas. Setting up and running ideas generation platforms and formats like jam sessions, hackathons, and internal or external crowdsourcing for the benefit of the corporation.

SIL: Harvard Business Review threw in a lot of terms here "jam sessions", etc. These terms all align with one goal: bring in fresh thinking. This means a sports CIO checks their ego at the door. They do not need to be the smartest person in the room. It's their job to bring the smartest people to the room. CIOs need to pull on external experts to challenge assumptions and tell stories that inspire people to think differently. This is a skill. CIOs should not use events for marketing. These events should be designed to drive outcomes. CIOs should pull from people outside of the sports industry that provide stimulus and change perspective.

6. HBR: Directing seed funding. Owning and allocating a yearly budget to fund "homeless ideas" that are either too risky for the business units, or outside their existing business boundaries, which might not otherwise get funded. This provides an organizational home to nourish and protect new ideas.

SIL: This part of the CIO's job is not specific to sport, but what the Harvard Business Review failed to mention is that in addition to "owning and allocating" a yearly budget, the CIO MUST acquire and defend that budget. This is a skill of selling up to the management team and the board so there isn't episodic support for innovation but a steady stream of funding for these projects to evolve.

7. HBR: Designing shelter for promising projects. Designing resource allocation processes (portfolio, stage-gate, capex, budgeting) to take potentially disruptive innovations forward from the seed stage to the market without getting killed on the way by managers who are invested in the status quo.

SIL: This is tightly connected to the budget skill above. A CIO in sport isn't just a skillful creative with the political sophistication to navigate the ebbs and flows of the financial performance of the organization. The CIO is also a skillful operator. She must assemble the right team, borrow and solicit support from other departments, and leverage a wide network of external partners and contractors. Lots of people want to work in sport, so attracting a variable workforce of smart people is easier than other industries. CIOs in sport should draw liberally from the university and startup community.

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