2 Ways to Refocus the Goals of Innovation


I'll be quick this week because I'm a bit out of touch and more than a little tired, having spent the past three days driving my younger daughter's household goods from home in Northern California to Washington, DC, where she just started law school and moved into an apartment. (Sunday was the big day—1,250 miles—for those keeping score at home.)

I could tell you a lot about the history of Rome, having spent almost the entire trip listening to a podcast on the subject. Instead, I'll point you to two articles that surfaced last week and that underscore themes that I believe are crucial.

The first article, on "business process elimination" (as opposed to business process outsourcing), reminds me of a line from my old friend and colleague, Gordon Bell, who developed the first minicomputer back in the 1970s. He said that "the most reliable part of a computer is the one you leave out." Peter Drucker stated the principle more generally and famously when he said, "There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all."

We in insurance need to keep that principle in mind as we use technology to become more efficient. There are many things we should simply stop doing. No amount of effort should be spent on using fax machines more efficiently, for instance. They, and many other insurance anachronisms, need to just disappear.

The second article is a dramatic story about a drone saving a woman who was drowning 230 feet offshore in Spain. It would have been tough for a lifeguard to fight through the surf and reach her in time—but a drone got there. It dropped a life vest that inflated on impact, and she managed to grab hold and save herself. The drone kept watch on the woman and some friends, who were also struggling, until the lifeguards could get there.

That sort of story is worth keeping an eye on because, while a lot of the focus thus far for drones has been on their use in assessing damage following home fires or natural disasters, drones can also prevent a lot of injuries and deaths. The International Association of Certified Home Inspectors, for instance, reports that 164,000 inspectors fall off ladders just in the U.S. each year, and that 300 die. Imagine how many injuries and deaths can be prevented as drones replace ladders.

Then imagine all the other things that we as an industry can use technology to do if we move our focus past paying people after bad things happen and work to prevent those bad things from ever happening.

Have a great week.

Paul Carroll

Paul Carroll

Profile picture for user PaulCarroll

Paul Carroll

Paul Carroll is the editor-in-chief of Insurance Thought Leadership.

He is also co-author of A Brief History of a Perfect Future: Inventing the Future We Can Proudly Leave Our Kids by 2050 and Billion Dollar Lessons: What You Can Learn From the Most Inexcusable Business Failures of the Last 25 Years and the author of a best-seller on IBM, published in 1993.

Carroll spent 17 years at the Wall Street Journal as an editor and reporter; he was nominated twice for the Pulitzer Prize. He later was a finalist for a National Magazine Award.