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Posted by: Bruce Nussbaum on September 23, 2005

What do Google’s Marissa Mayer, GE’s Beth Comstock and P&G’s Claudia Kotchka have in common? They are all innovation champions within their companies. Dev Patnaik of the innovation consultant Jump Associates thinks there are 20 or more women innovation champions at major U.S. corporations, including companies that have long been dominated by male engineers and scientists. So what’s up with that? Of course it’s a great thing, but a mystery as well. In corporations run by men for generations, women overwhelming play THE key role as change agents promoting design, ideation, paradigm shifting and all that good stuff. They are at “C” suite power levels, with direct access to the CEO. But what is the combination of skills, values and whatever that make women so good at this difficult job? Integrators, outsiders, balancers, design-sensitive, flexible….Claudia, Beth, Marissa, what is it?
Google’s Marissa Mayer

My bet is that the market for such incredible talent is tighter than the market for CEOs. Head-hunters, take note.

Reader Comments

Niti Bhan

September 26, 2005 7:37 PM

Excellent question. I would have preferred to answer in full on my own blog with a trackback, but there doesn't seem to be a trackback URL provided though it shows up on the right hand column as "recent trackbacks".

However, to share my two rupees worth on your question,
But what is the combination of skills, values and whatever that make women so good at this difficult job? Integrators, outsiders, balancers, design-sensitive, flexible….Claudia, Beth, Marissa, what is it?

- The key word, imho, would be collaborators. As acknowledged, design and innovation are extremely collaborative exercises, more so if the results are to be powerful agents of change. I believe that for a wide variety of reasons, [and to keep this short as a comment not a blog posting] women have skills that make them effective collaborators. The chief of which is their ability to see the project from "big picture" mode, all the relevant areas and information that need to be combined, such as pulling together the design teams, the management, the users, to solve problems. They are also not as often distracted by individual "competitive" urges, they build relationships and understand the power of putting aside individual egos to serve the common goal.
They are also communicators - effective at conversations that share ideas, across teams, across silos, and work towards consensus building. All of these "C" words, collaboration, conversation and consensus, are what makes them stand out in their leadership roles.

Niti Bhan

September 26, 2005 9:40 PM

Very responsive! thanks and expect trackbacks for debate and discussion :)

Tom Kelley

September 26, 2005 11:57 PM

Look a little further, and you might be tempted to believe that the estimate of 20 women in such pivotal innovation roles is WAY low. In addition to the three remarkable women mentioned above, there are plenty more VP-level innovation executives like Carol Pletcher at Cargill and Donna Sturgess at GlaxoSmithKline (one of the co-authors of Big Moo mentioned in today's "Six Sigma to Failure" post). Sure there are men in such roles too, but many of them I've met are deeply collaborative, with a strong sense of empathy...traits that our culture has historically tended to associate with women. This trend has been flying beneath the radar for a few years now, so thanks for pointing it out.

Mike Reardon

September 27, 2005 8:14 AM

The 20 or so top female creative talents that have reach this level, exactly like men in woman's fashion magazines, have mentors who have held them in those places long enough that they have grown into and proven their talent. The top 20 is not for lack of female talent, it is clearly the lack of CEO vision that this is not an exponential number.

Someone twenty years at the center of creativity, male or female then becomes the center of creativity. What is equally great are those CEO's mentoring their talents into being.

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Want to stop talking about innovation and learn how to make it work for you? Bruce Nussbaum takes you deep into the latest thinking about innovation and design with daily scoops, provocative perspectives and case studies. Nussbaum is at the center of a global conversation on the growing discipline of innovation and the deepening field of design thinking. Read him to discover what social networking works—and what doesn’t. Discover where service innovation is going and how experience design is shaping up. Learn which schools are graduating the most creative talent and which consulting firms are the hottest. And get his take on what the smartest companies are doing in the U.S., Asia and Europe, far ahead of the pack.

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