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March 10, 2017

Are You Innovating in the Dark?

Summary:

Beware of those commoditized insights and research reports that may distract you from doing genuine innovation.

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The insurance industry is ripe for disruption, drawing a flood of investment and spurring all sorts of smart conversations. But many insurance companies today are either confused or are just shooting in the dark hunting that “big thing” (unknown) in the name of innovation.

The good news is that the fear of disruption has pushed the innovation agenda for many companies. But there are only a handful of players in the industry who are taking innovation seriously. For such companies, innovation is never accidental, seasonal or impulsive. Rather, it is an integral part of the company’s culture of organization and is a continuous process.

Are you a victim of “innovation phobia?”

Innovation makes many players in the industry nervous, forcing them to act fast to do something innovative or deliver superior values to clients in difficult times, spurring a reactive innovations race in the market.

The sad part is that such “knee jerk” reactions last for short lifespans and do not deliver any value to an organization. Typically, such momentum often dies within 12 to 18 months because of reasons such as change of organization priority, leadership change, shortage of funds, skill shortage, poor support within an organization, company politics and resistance of companies to change. Companies burn millions of dollars each year in the name of reactive innovation. Is it time for organizations to assess if they are the victim of the innovation phobia? Are there better ways to use their funds? The answers are yes.

See also: How to Create a Culture of Innovation  

Build meaningful offerings, not just elegant facilities and prototypes

In the last 12 months, innovation activities have ignited insurance industry collaboration with startups and insurtech. Other innovation players are picking this up, which is a good thing and a positive sign for the industry. Keywords such as “incubator,” “accelerator,” “innovation labs,” “garages” and  “design thinking” are gradually becoming the jargon of the insurance industry. Many companies have built (or are building) large, elegant facilities for innovating, assembling teams, creating fancy prototypes and leveraging newer technologies. Few companies are funding startups and few have started separate venture capital funds to capitalize future opportunities. Things are really changing — and fast.

Still, the big questions remain:

  • Are these real attempts toward innovation?
  • Are these meager reactions triggered because of innovation phobia?
  • Are these attempts to create a market illusion that your company is innovating?

None of the above aspects can guarantee success. The hard reality is that such efforts are not sufficient for innovation. Innovation is not about building fancy facilities or shiny prototypes that anyone can mimic easily. It is not about the number of experiments or proof of concepts you are developing. It is also not about the number of hackathons you sponsor or the total partnerships you have with startups or insurtech firms.

It is about creating something meaningful for customers that is distinctive in the market and gives you a long-term competitive advantage. And it is about understanding your future customer’s needs, market insights and evolving industry trends in a timely manner (ahead of your competitors) and about building something meaningful that customers will value the most.

Addressing the “missing” elements of innovation in your organization

Innovation is not an easy thing and cannot happen as a matter of reactive actions. Unless organizations build a culture for innovation; make it a continuous process; invest in people and capabilities; and commit themselves for long-term innovation, any efforts toward achieving innovation are going to be shortsighted. Failures are an inevitable part of innovation, so building a culture that encourages failures and motivates teams to think big, imagine the future, gather insights, validate assumptions and deliver value with greater agility are important part of innovation. It is time for companies to be honest and discover the missing elements of innovation in their organization. Innovation is about building a foundation for the future of the company; it is about creating a futuristic business, talent, expertise and the people of tomorrow.

Many of today’s innovation efforts are merely trying to keep pace with the emerging technologies — such technologies are threatening the existing business models of insurance companies. If you look closely, you would agree that such scenarios have existed for many decades in the industry. It is impossible to keep the same business pace when technological changes are maturing and evolving at a faster pace. There is a need to look for some missing element in your organization, which, when paired with emerging powerful technologies, can bring the real innovation out.

Invest in market intelligence and competitors’ moves

Successful innovation demands long-term organizational commitment, unique market insights, customer validation-feedback, talent, organizational agility and correct assessment of timings of market readiness for any new value proposition.

If you look closely at the history of some of the most successful innovation companies (such as Google, Apple, GE, P&G, PepsiCo and Toyota), you would notice that such high-performance companies have assessed the market, customer behavior and competitors’ moves very cautiously and constantly and have made appropriate investments in the journey for innovation. These companies have built an innovation culture over years. Unfortunately, today, companies do not have the patience to gather the right intelligence on the market and the insights on customers’ behavior. And many companies just want to take advantage of becoming the first movers without doing the proper homework about market readiness, competitors, customer needs and the industry preparedness.

Beware of those fancy insights that everyone knows

Many companies’ innovation agendas get biased and influenced by a few survey results from the top consulting and analyst firms; few companies are also using future market size projections from the global research companies as a part of justification for the company’s innovation efforts. By and large, the entire insurance industry is referring to the same set of intelligence and insights. If that is the case, there is little possibility that meaningful offerings would emerge that can disrupt the industry as a whole. If you are going to create another new-style offering (similar to that of others or that can be mimicked easily), by leveraging the similar market insights and similar technologies, your innovations efforts are likely to deliver poor results.

Beware of those commoditized insights and research reports that may distract you from doing genuine innovation.

See also: Innovation Won’t Work Without This

You must invest in assessing market intelligence and customer intelligence continuously. Your futuristic offerings are likely to be as differentiated as those of the unique market and customer insights you gather. Align your innovation efforts accordingly, leveraging the best proven technologies and the expertise of your people and partners.

Going back to basics

Industry players must assess if they are addressing innovation requirements holistically. How accurately a company infers future market movement, customer behavior and demands — and creates offerings in a timely manner ahead of its competition — plays a critical role in the success of innovation. If you think this type of innovation sounds more like gambling or shooting a gun up in the air, you are advised to spend your money on some other initiatives that can improve your business performance faster.

Now is the time to invest in your people and build capabilities (underwriting, risk management, sales and distribution, claims, etc). It is the time to build core foundations and address the missing elements of innovations within your organization.

Conclusion

Innovations are critical for a company of any size. Insurers must commit themselves to innovating and must build an innovation-centric culture in their organization. Insurers must honestly assess if they are a victim of innovation phobia and must address the missing elements and innovation gaps in their organization. The distinctiveness of market insights, customer preferences, competitors’ moves and industry readiness plays an important role in the potential success of the innovation. Innovation is never accidental but, rather, is a continuous process that requires the best talent, best capabilities and agility. The role of technology and the startup community cannot be ignored in innovation. Insurers must stop innovating in the dark and instead start fixing the broken elements that are hindering the company’s growth.

Learn about Innovator’s Edge, a first-of-its-kind insurtech matchmaking platform.

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About the Author

Girish Joshi is an insurance industry visionary and a business leader. Over the past 18 years, he has been advising insurance clients in North America, Europe and Asia Pacific across business strategy, consulting, business and IT transformations, technology adoption and related areas.

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