Finding innovation under the big top


EY last week held the glitziest event I've attended in some time. When I walked into a huge tent by the water along the San Francisco Bay, I was handed an iPad that contained all the information I'd need for the day. There was even a compass on the home screen that could direct me to where I should go. The name tag on the lanyard that I put around my neck was oddly heavy. It turned out to be a smart device. Rather than hand out business cards, you could exchange information with someone by touching your name tags to each other's. 

I half-expected a Cirque du Soleil show to start up. 

But our friends at EY, including Shaun Crawford and Dave Hollander, had bigger things in mind for the, I'd guess, 200 people who attended. They provided ideas and exercises to stretch our thinking on how to innovate, to get us past the incremental thinking that still afflicts so many of us even in these creative times. 

My group focused on reimagining healthcare and pretty quickly pushed the bounds of what we might have imagined would be possible. One subgroup proposed a sort of data foundation—medical groups and hospital systems or even countries could contribute anonymized data in return for the right to run analytics against the giant database and gain insights about population health. Another subgroup took a philanthropic approach—we all get worn down by travel and can feel disconnected on the road, but what if a group collected donations of frequent traveler points and let us feel at least a bit fulfilled by steering them to a good cause of our choice? Might travel gain a bit more of a purpose? My subgroup designed a sort of community health center. It would collect as much data as residents were willing to share electronically about their vital signs, sleep, etc., then provide dietary, exercise and medical advice electronically, bring people in via Uber or driverless car for consultations, offer social interactions for shut-ins and generally provide a low-key way of making the community healthier. (I later learned that such centers actually exist in poorer communities, under the name Federally Qualified Community Health Centers. I, of course, took them as validation of my subgroup's ability to define a real need.)

The point isn't so much the ideas—though EY said it was going to continue the conversation about some of the ideas that were developed about healthcare, smart cities and so on, perhaps even investing in some of them. The point is that we all need to find ways to shake out the cobwebs from time to time and let our minds wander to new possibilities. 

As always, when it comes to innovation in insurance, I'd steer you to our Innovator's Edge, which now tracks more than 1,000 insurtechs and helps you sift through them in ways guaranteed to stretch your thinking.  

Please also visit the ITL website for nearly 2,900 articles—including the six recent ones below—with cutting-edge thinking on how to take advantage of the huge opportunities in front of us. 


Paul Carroll,

Paul Carroll

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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.