Lightning or Just a Lightning Bug?

We're beginning to see that distinction play out in corporate innovation programs: A few are producing lightning, but many are just catching lightning bugs.


Mark Twain once wrote that "the difference between the almost right word and the right word is ... the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning." We're beginning to see that distinction play out in corporate innovation programs: A few are producing lightning, but many are just catching lightning bugs.

Guy Fraker, our chief innovation officer, offers sharp insights in a new blog post into why some win and some lose. Guy has generated plenty of lightning in his time, both in his innovation work at State Farm and in his pioneering consulting work, including at Munich Re, and he says that the organization of the innovation team is key. Read the full article here: "Attributes of Effective Innovation Teams."

Companies mistakenly assume that they can organize innovation teams as they do other sorts of teams, but innovation is different, Guy writes. The teams need to focus on developing a product or service, not a process, and need to be as fully invested in the result as a startup CEO would be. No assuming that you can just do your best and move on to another role in the corporation if things don't work out.

The skills that are needed are different, too. Someone who might be well-regarded in the corporate environment may be completely wrong for the innovation team. For instance, as Guy explains, innovators typically are well above average in their abilities to persuade but well below average on empathy -- no points awarded here for being a people person.

Guy's research and experience certainly jibe with mine. I've watched plenty of companies promise innovation over the years, reaching back to the early 1990s, when archrivals IBM and Apple announced two surprising joint ventures that were to set the world on fire, even though anyone paying attention knew the corporate cultures couldn't mix. The senior IBMer named to run one of the "startups" still thought he'd have an assistant to carry his briefcase for him, so the attempts at radical innovation mostly just produced low comedy -- at one early meeting, the IBMers showed up in polo shirts and khakis to try to fit the Apple culture, and the Apple folks arrived in suits and ties. 

Just lightning bugs with that pairing. 

Here's hoping for some lightning for you (and Guy's research can help keep you on the right path).

Have a great week.

Paul Carroll


P.S. If you're going to be at the SAP Global Partner Summit on June 4 in Orlando, please let us know by emailing Our Wayne Allen and Rock Griffin will be there, as part of a soon-to-be-announced partnership with SAP, and would love to meet as many ITL subscribers as they can. They can also tell you more about, or even demo, our Innovator's Edge platform, which tracks thousands of insurtechs and tens of thousands of other companies whose technology could foster innovation in insurance and risk management. 

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.


Read More