Putting a price tag on IT innovation

In this Searchlight, money can't buy happiness, but it might help cure diseases and promote IT innovation. Plus, cyberattacks hit major targets.

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There are plenty of theories on the best ways to spur innovation: time off to pursue special projects, removing hierarchy, encouraging collaboration with the latest cutting-edge tools. But you know what also works? Money. Oh, I know it sounds crass, but that doesn't make it untrue. Perhaps it will soften the edge a bit to say, money and some appreciation.

Karen GoulartKaren Goulart

Leading off this week's Searchlight is a story about a group of tech industry bigwigs -- Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg and Apple chairman Art Levinson among them -- who have created The Life Sciences Breakthrough Prize. The competition, which carries a $3 million purse, is designed to encourage research biologists to develop cures for diseases and tackle tough life-sciences problems. Distilling Zuckerberg's explanation for the existence of the prize: For all their smarts, these top techies can't cure diseases, but they have the clout and the cash to help those who can. These are folks who understand that encouraging innovation can lead to a better future in all areas of life. And they're putting their money where their mouth is. What a novel idea.

I'm not suggesting every company ought to, or can afford to, dangle huge amounts of cash before employees like so many carrots in order to inspire IT innovation. Nor am I saying that employees won't be creative, thoughtful and hardworking without big monetary incentives. Those biologists weren't holding off looking for cures while waiting for the Facebook guy to swoop in with a giant check, but I'm sure they appreciate the opportunity.

It's important, however, to have some structured way of letting employees know that their ideas and contributions are valuable and, in the case of IT innovation, can be industry game-changers. Just the other day I was talking to Carl Wilson, former Marriott CIO and industry changer. He, his IT team and business partners (he refuses to take more of a fair share of the credit) brought us the first online room-reservation system and in-room high-speed Internet. After an accolade-filled career in IT that spanned more than four decades and a variety of industries, he now coaches CIOs and other executives.

Check out SearchCIO.com's own coverage of these topics

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"There's a saying I heard years ago," Wilson told me. "'Tell me how a person is recognized, rewarded and compensated, and I'll tell you how they behave on the job.' If you want to bring about learning and change and you want to motivate people to get there, make sure your reward, recognition and compensation programs reflect where you want to go, not where you are today."

Then again, maybe all this talk is for nothing. A recent cover story in The Economist questions (in a rather George Costanza-like way) whether we've taken innovation as far as it can go. Not so fast, says blogger John L. Myers, who flushes that idea in a post that takes the No. 2 slot in this week's Searchlight.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Karen Goulart, Features Writer.

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