The identification of chief innovation officer roles in both the public and private sector is becoming commonplace. Governments and private organizations alike are creating new position descriptions with corresponding innovation-oriented priorities to be balanced and strategies to be fulfilled.

Often, when the terms “balance” and “strategy” are intertwined, one thinks of The Balanced Scorecard, the concept of aligning and measuring strategic financial and non-financial business results. The Balanced Scorecard is certainly a tried-and-true approach to strategy development and execution; however, a few years ago, Everett Marshall and I took the concept of a “balanced strategy” in a different direction and wrote Optimizing Results through Socially Balanced Strategies. The Socially Balanced Strategy Framework can serve as a fruitful organizational schema for the planning activities of chief innovation officers.

Borne out of our practical experiences and observations in various strategic planning scenarios, we noted that strategy buy-in and success were often dependent on the extent to which participants viewed the strategy as rational. But therein resides the dilemma, as the rationality of a strategy often varies by one’s social value orientation (Kuhlman, Brown, & Teta, 1992).

Generally, people approach the world from five basic social value orientations:

  1. Altruism: helping others
  2. Cooperation: working with others
  3. Individualism: working for the self
  4. Competition: trying to outdo others
  5. Aggression: disrupting others

Organizations can approach strategy from similar mindsets (depending on the orientations of those developing and carrying out the strategy). Some organizations have a mission to help. Some form strategic partnerships. Some organizations are in it for the money and glory. Some thrive on competition. And some want to just disrupt the way the current world works (and this can actually be quite positive).

Of course, many organizations or public agencies could adopt more than one of these perspectives in a single plan. And, as people vary along the social value spectrum, it is probably beneficial for any organization focused on innovation to align its strategy across the spectrum as well.

A Socially Balanced Innovation Strategy

So, how could an innovation officer apply the tenets of The Socially Balanced Strategy to motivate and gain buy-in from city, state or federal bodies and their constituents? An innovation-centric organization or government can increase the diversity of its strategy, so that people with varying perspectives of what is rational can see themselves and their own orientations reflected through the organization’s initiatives.

Take, for example, The San Francisco Office of Civic Innovation project, ImproveSF. This initiative aims to connect “civic challenges to community problem-solvers.” The broad range of “challenges” presented address all 5 social value orientations, including the ability for the competition-minded to win prizes ranging from autographed Giants baseballs to cooking classes.

The HUD Switchboard is a similar initiative at the Federal level. It offers the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) a way to collaborate with and capture the innovation of citizens and employees while also providing friendly competition through a voting mechanism.

The Socially Balanced Strategy Framework is rooted in a series of questions that ensure planning activities consider the full social spectrum. Innovative organizations should be encouraged to look both internally and externally when considering the social spectrum, as strategy can impact those within and outside the organization.

As a summary, here are some of the questions you can use to determine whether your strategy is socially balanced and poised for spurring innovation:


  1. How does our organization show support for the well-being of the community?
  2. How does our organization show support for the well-being of its employees?


  1. How can we partner with other organizations, both public and private?
  2. How can different parts of our organization partner together?


  1. How can we exploit the strengths of other organizations?
  2. How can we leverage our own key strengths?


  1. How can we foster competition with other organizations to meet our goals?
  2. How can we instill healthy competition internally?

Disturbance (renamed from Aggression to reduce negative connotation)

  1. How can we change the industry?
  2. How can we change our own organization?

By vetting your strategy through each of these lenses, you will be able to identify your organization’s dominant areas of focus and note where you can drive additional strategies to promote greater innovation.


Kuhlman, D. M., Brown, C., & Teta, P. (1992). Judgments of Cooperation or Defection in Social Dilemmas: The Moderating Role of Judge’s Social Orientation. In W. Liebrand, D. Messick, & H. Wilke (Eds.) Social dilemmas: Theoretical Issues and Research Findings (pp 111–132). Tarrytown, NY: Pergamon Press.


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