In a recent article for The Chronicle of Higher Education (link to PDF), history professor Peter A. Coclanis – noting the importance of innovation to many businesses and the establishment in recent years of high-level positions like the CINO, or the chief innovation officer, in many businesses – argues for the creation of a new position to complement the CINO: the CIAO, or the chief intellectual-arbitrage officer. The CIAO would “work with the CINO not only to generate new ideas but also to ask new questions, identify new trends, explore new niches, expand geocultural boundaries, project forward, and remember the past.” Importantly, the CIAO would not necessarily have a science/tech or business background, as CINOs often do; instead, Coclanis sees “the perfect CIAO as a liberal-arts type, someone who reads broadly and voraciously, is articulate, knows how to do research, can count a little, has backbone, and likes to argue.”
Professor Coclanis argues that such qualities can be found in many Ph.D.s in the humanities, arts, and social sciences, and that it’s time for businesses – some of which have always had “dedicated deep thinkers” like Steve Jobs of Apple or Nathan Myhrvold of Microsoft – to make this position regular and routine.
What a successful intellectual-arbitrage officer would bring to the table are questions, ideas, connections, and possibilities from other intellectual, disciplinary, geographic, and cultural “worlds.” Lots of “what ifs,” “why nots,” “did you ever think abouts,” “X seems a lot like Y’s.” Most of those questions would not hold up to strategic scrutiny and market discipline, but a small number might. And for what it would cost a company to fill such a position, one home run—or even a single or a double—would pay handsomely.
Coclanis urges organizations like the American Historical Association and the Modern Language Association to develop ways for humanities graduate students to indicate their potential CIAO qualities to businesses. This could include, for instance, inviting corporate recruiters to graduate student conferences or the annual meetings of the AHA and the MLA in order to discover those humanists who “add value to corporations while at the same time enjoying meaningful careers.”