See Innovation Obstacles Before You Run Into Them


After years of being on the sidelines, many insurance companies are on the path to innovating for growth, considering tech solutions to gain operating efficiencies, create important products and services and even develop new economic markets. 

Some companies recognize the inevitable need for some form of innovation but struggle to cross the starting line; others are in the early stages of this journey; and some are well along the innovation road. One thing they all have in common is that somewhere along the way they will encounter (if they haven't already) a series of obstacles that will inhibit or derail progress. These challenges can fester for months before being recognized and addressed. 

Wouldn't it be better to know the innovation road hazards in advance? What if, instead of a post-mortem, you could conduct a "pre-mortem" to understand ahead of time how these innovation killers develop and why they apply to all incumbent companies? Then, you could mitigate the problems and perhaps never have to inspect a corpse.

The phrase, "fail fast and learn," is often used on innovation teams, but what if you could learn from others' failures and not have to make your own? 

Based on our experience advising incumbents on innovation, ITL will hold a workshop during InsureTech Connect, Sept. 23-25, in Las Vegas and share key understandings about challenges you're sure to face. We'll explore why they occur and show how to navigate resolutions, as well as take preemptive actions.

We organize the universal challenges into the following five categories:

  1. HR Issues. Few corporate divisions are as vital to innovation as HR. For many insurance companies, addressing the talent needs of innovation requires creativity, but how many companies have truly addressed this issue before problems occur? Some key HR questions that will arise include: How do you attract and nurture innovation talent? Once you have had some success, how do you retain that talent? Bringing in innovation talent from outside can provide fresh eyes and needed skills, but there may be a lack of insurance knowledge. Forming an internal team means asking people to disrupt carefully managed career trajectories to meet a mission that may stretch cultural norms. Should this increased risk be matched by a unique compensation structure? For new concepts launched into the market, who will lead these to scaled growth? If the concepts fail, are those small teams guaranteed jobs back in the parent company? If these concepts take off, will the rewards reflect entrepreneurial success? In the context of innovation best practices, what does the term "incentives" mean? Who "owns" those ideas submitted from the workforce that are selected for further development by an internal innovation practice?
  2. Boundaries. Innovation success rarely comes from blank check budgets while searching the universe of possibilities. This is why small and mid-size incumbents may be favored for innovation success. Innovation requires constraints. However, defining organizational limits one idea at a time invites traditional executive reactions, which are acutely sensitive to time horizons and depend on the capacity of key decision makers. The solution is to identify a general approach, prioritizing "jobs to be done" and game-changing technologies. There also needs to be a determination of organizational appetite either very early in the innovation journey, or as an iteration to existing efforts that are not quite meeting expectations. How do innovation teams avoid constantly chasing the shiny new object? How do best-in-class innovators improve the consistency and actionable quality of ideas submitted by customers, colleagues, and startups? How do you get consensus among senior management and innovation leaders on which ideas are worth considering, which should be set aside, and why? Once a set of targets is established, how can you keep everyone from straying out of bounds?
  3. Innovation Theory vs. Innovation Reality. Many insurance companies are learning design thinking as a process for innovation, which can be extremely helpful. However, after learning these concepts, tens of thousands of associates return to their daily responsibilities at incumbents with the nagging question, "Now what?" If understanding a customer segment, or potential new customer segment, is to be the genesis for generating ideas, and idea flow is the fuel to any innovation practice, how does design thinking bridge customer knowledge and solutions for real economic growth? The intent of design thinking is to bring together key constituencies around a specific consumer "job to be done." In practice, however—particularly in the context of insurance—companies are discovering significant challenges when moving from theory to tactics. What if design thinking concepts could be used to focus all of this energy into accelerated ROI?
  4. Launch and Scale. Many insurance companies have successfully developed an innovation strategy, have run idea campaigns and even have come up with some compelling proofs of concept. What happens next? Does the innovation team hand off ideas to relevant business units? What if existing business units don't welcome new concepts with open arms and provide needed resources? How do you avoid a momentum stall when early success is achieved, and the resources needed for scaled success cannot be obtained? How do companies launch without tipping competitors off to new opportunities? How do successful innovators operate with significantly faster decision making and procurement tactics?
  5. Leadership and Mandate. It's unlikely that many insurance companies will pursue an innovation strategy without the approval of the C-suite. But is the CEO merely ticking a box on innovation—perhaps because A.M. Best will soon require it? —or providing leadership and enthusiasm for the effort? At the other extreme, how does the innovation team deal with a CEO who is constantly micromanaging or pushing his or her own ideas to the top of the queue?

At the ITL workshop in Las Vegas, we will present case studies from actual engagements to illustrate each of these challenges. Attendees will have the opportunity to select the two topics of greatest interest to them for a deep discussion to analyze the scenario. They will explore what factors lead to a problem or, just as important, what could cause a successful outcome (and what would allow that to be repeated)? All the innovation challenges will be recapped and reviewed as a group at the workshop.

The program will be led by ITL Chief Innovation Officer Guy Fraker. Moderators for the discussion groups include Robin Roberson and Kenneth Knoll of tech consultant Goose & Gander (formerly CEO and COO, respectively, of WeGoLook); Rob Galbraith of AF Group and author of "The End of Insurance as We Know It"; ITL Editor-in-Chief Paul Carroll; and me.

The goal of the workshop is to equip attendees with the knowledge to recognize and prepare for seemingly small decisions that can later send an innovation program off course. We want insurance companies to be confident they can lay the groundwork to avoid the traps, wrong decisions or gaps that can inhibit them from achieving their innovation goals.

Does it sound like it would benefit you and your company to learn how to avoid innovation obstructions? Please register today at

Paul Winston
Chief Operating Officer

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.