There's not a wrong way to organize, but there are benefits to developing a central team to ensure consistent methodology, language and culture and the use of consistent tools and frameworks. Eventually, most ideas if adopted will be implemented in a specific business unit or product team, so the central team acts as a facilitator, coach and sponsor, usually without implementing the ideas.
There is support for this view. IBM asked 765 CEO's this question in their 2006 Global CEO Survey, and reported the following on the question of who has responsibility for innovation leadership: the CEO - 27%, No Owner - 27%, Functional Managers - 24%, and Division Managers - 14%.
The wide range of responses tells me there is no consensus. But the question still makes me a little nervous. Why does someone have to "own" innovation? Do we think about leadership the same way? Does someone own leadership in a company? No one asks that question.
I get hopeful when I see that 27% of CEO's ascribe no owner to innovation. My sense is that creating an innovation champion or assigning it to one department could shut down others from innovating. With strong, central ownership of innovation, others might be reluctant to initiate anything that looks like a competing approach. When I see a company with an innovation champion (think "owner"), I expect to find innovation subversives, too.
The question is not who owns innovation, but rather who owns innovation competency development. I see more companies moving in this direction. Some place this within a process excellence group while others move it right into a functional department such as marketing or R&D. Still others have dedicated resources such as GE and Diageo, two members of the MSI Innovation Roundtable.
Build innovation competency and the question of who owns innovation becomes moot.