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Inventing Your Future: A 3 X 3 Approach

When you add it all up, the insurance industry has many characteristics that make it an attractive target for aggressive investments in innovation. First, it is enormous; it is estimated to be a global market of premiums written of more than $4.7 trillion. Second, it faces multiple challenges that offer opportunities for exploitation by nimble, efficient and innovative competitors, including:

  • Low-interest-rate environment: Together, forcing a focus on the core business of insurance, creating enhanced customer experiences and value and rethinking operations to manage expenses are driving the innovation of business models underpinned by an efficient, flexible and variable-cost-based infrastructure.
  • New customer attitudes and behaviors: From a move toward owning to renting, looking for niche solutions such as short-term, on-demand insurance or seeking solutions that help to manage risk, there is a growing need for new products and services that may be offered through new business models.
  • Changing customer expectations: Fueled by digital technology, data and experiences from other digital companies (Amazon, Google, Facebook, etc.), expectations are radically shifting and driving increased dissatisfaction levels with how insurers engage and interact with customers.
  • Traditional insurance is stale and complex: Insurance is seen as an intangible, low-engagement product that customers do not enjoy buying. They are seeking alternatives that make the process simple, quick and painless, with engagement that meets their needs.

Yet insurance is still needed by individuals and businesses to protect them and help them manage an increasingly changing risk environment. As a result, there is a gap between what traditional insurers are providing and what is needed in today’s rapidly changing marketplace.

Enter the greenfields, start-ups and incubators that are aiming to innovate insurance. They are seeking to define new business models and processes that create a better way to “do insurance,” capture new market opportunities, create products and services and be at the forefront of the changing market. The nature of this new pressure is characterized by technology, data and very active investment activity as reflected in the new term, InsurTech. The research firm CB Insights is tracking more than 130 start-ups and private companies in the InsurTech space that have raised more than $3.5 billion in aggregate funding.

Many insurance companies recognize the importance of not standing idly by while others are reinventing insurance and creating new models, products, services and value propositions. Indeed, a survey conducted by Celent among its insurance panel found that 86% felt that innovating over the next three to five years was critically important (InsureTech Has Arrived: A Primer, May 2016). And, as highlighted in Majesco’s recent thought leadership report, Greenfields, Start-ups and Incubators … Innovation in Insurance Products, Channels, Services and Business Models, a small but growing number of companies are becoming active in this space by establishing venture capital units/divisions; creating start-ups and greenfields; and incubating new products, services or channels.

See also: How to Plant in the Greenfields

Still, most insurance companies have been hampered by the prospect of needing to do multiple monumental tasks simultaneously: First, continuing to run the current business with existing (and in many cases) outdated legacy systems; second, modernizing those systems to bring the current business into the modern era; and third, innovating/re-inventing the business in the race with InsurTech competitors to respond to the rapidly changing needs, expectations and risk profiles of the customer.

Three Boxes

This dilemma is not new.  The tension between the current state and the vision of the future state is always there; it is just more pronounced today, given the pace and complexity of change. The companies that are exemplars at innovation are the ones that embrace these tensions and manage them strategically.

Consultant and Dartmouth professor Vijay Govindarajan adapted an ancient Hindu philosophy to characterize the required components of this capability in his new book, A Three-Box Solution to Managing Innovation (Harvard Business Review Press, April 26, 2016).

  • Box 1 (with Hindu god Vishnu, the preserver, as the metaphor) is about managing the present and keeping the current success of the company going.
  • Box 2 (based on Shiva, the destroyer) is about selectively forgetting about and letting go of the past. This includes some of the things that led to the company’s current success, which may not be relevant in the future; they are today’s strengths but may very well be tomorrow’s weaknesses.
  • Box 3 (based on Brahma, the creator) is about inventing the future — the game-changing innovations that are going to transform the business for tomorrow.

Govindarajan explains that many companies stay stuck in Box 1 and are afraid of Box 2. In an interview with the Huffington Posthe noted, “Once companies become large and successful, the tendency is to preserve success. The tendency is to focus on Box 1. Box 1 is about managing the present, Box 2 is about selectively forgetting the past and Box 3 is about creating the future. For large companies, success becomes a trap because they tend to focus on Box 1/present.”

Successful companies balance activity and focus across all three boxes. For example, a healthy Box 1 is critical to fund the activities in Boxes 2 and 3, which will determine the future of the company. As he said, “Just as the three Hindu gods work in concert to keep the universe humming, a company manager must keep the present business strong and at the same time get rid of outdated enterprises and develop new lines.”

Three Steps

A Three-Box framework is helpful for structuring strategy for innovation and reinvention, but putting it into action isn’t necessarily easy. In our experience working with numerous carriers on their transformation journeys, we have found the following three tools to be helpful in moving from thinking to action.

First, develop a target operating model that defines how to efficiently and effectively operationalize your company’s vision and business strategy for both the existing business and the future business model. The right combination of business processes (process strategy), organizational structure and staffing (people strategy) and technology and data assets (technology strategy) will likely be different for the existing and future models, so ask these key questions: What is your minimum viable product? New operational model? New business model? What areas of the existing business are most critical to keep it funded today and the future? A target operating model can help you define your existing and future business so that you rapidly get results and value.

See also: How to Turn ‘Inno-va-SHUN’ Into Innovation

Second, create and execute a well-documented, detailed business transformation plan that makes it explicitly clear how the transition from current to future state will occur. The plan should include details on your current state to help drive new efficiencies — including all of the connections, data flows and work flows — and the inevitable bottlenecks and inefficiencies that are costing you money and reducing quality. It should also include details that define your new business model and what you need for the future business, which is likely very different from your current model. To create confidence in how and when you will arrive at the future state defined by your target operating model, the plan must identify and document an appropriate number of transition states that define what the process, people and technology components will look like — and for how long.

Third, leverage cloud platforms and partner ecosystems across all boxes to eliminate the need for new infrastructure and reduce the uncertainty around the veracity of future state business model ideas through “fail fast” experimentation and rapid scalability.

These three steps combined with the Three-Box framework create the 3 X 3 approach for ensuring your company’s current and future success.

3 X 3 Approach to Reinvent Your Business

Reinvention and Transformation: The New Normal

The wave of change to a digitally and data-empowered world driven by ever-increasing customer demands is inevitable. And it is a given that there will be constant pressure from both start-ups and established companies to outdo each other in the race to better meet those needs and capture more share of the enormous value presented by the insurance market.

For insurance companies, the need to reinvent and transform the business is no longer a matter of if, but when. Together, the Three-Box framework and three-step approach provide a formula to use to develop your reinvention and transformation strategy. But the bigger challenge insurance leaders face is the pace of transformation — because the pace of change is not slowing down.

Insurance leaders should ask themselves: Do we have a strategy that considers both transforming the legacy business and creating a new business for the future? Who are our future customers and what will they demand? Who are our emerging new competitors?  Where are we focusing our resources… on the business or on the infrastructure? What can we do to demonstrate to all employees that we must be — and that we are — committed to working in balance across all three boxes?

The Incredible Impact From Superbosses

Please join me for “Path to Transformation,” an event I am putting on May 10 and 11 at the Plug and Play accelerator in Silicon Valley in conjunction with Insurance Thought Leadership. The event will not only explore technological breakthroughs but will explain how companies can test and absorb the technologies, in ways that then lead to startling (and highly profitable) innovation. My son and I have been teaching these events around the world, and I hope to see you in May. You can sign up here.

“I don’t care if you have to take drugs, you have to build it in six months,” said my boss, Khurshed Birdie, when I told him that he was on drugs if he thought my team could create a software development tool set in less than three years. This was in 1986 at Credit Suisse First Boston, one of New York City’s top investment banks. We were rebuilding the company’s trade processing systems to run on a client–server model of computing. This technology is common now, but then it was as futuristic as “Star Wars.”

My team worked day and night to build a technology that became the foundation of the company’s information systems. It gave Credit Suisse First Boston a competitive edge and led IBM to invest $20 million in a spinoff company that was formed to market the tools we had developed.

I was a lowly computer programmer, an analyst when Birdie hired me, a computer geek who didn’t own any three-piece suits, white two-ply cotton shirts or wing-tipped Oxford shoes — the uniform of investment bankers. Yet I was hired on the spot. I had some far-out ideas about how computer systems could be built but didn’t believe for a second that I could implement them. My boss did: He believed in me more than I did, and he bet a $100 million project on my vision.

He allowed me to expand my team from four to 54 people and shielded me from criticism by other teams who had to use my tools to build their systems — and who thought I was crazy. There were a lot of problems along the way, and Birdie allowed me to learn from my mistakes. And then he promoted me to vice president of information technology when I achieved success.

Birdie was what Sydney Finkelstein, a Dartmouth business professor, in his new book, Superbosses: How Exceptional Leaders Manage the Flow of Talent, calls a “superboss.”

As Finkelstein explains, superbosses take chances on unconventional talent. Oracle’s founder, Larry Ellison, hired candidates who had accomplished something genuinely difficult, rather than those with formal qualifications, because he believed they would rise to the technical challenges. Designer Ralph Lauren offered jobs to strangers whom he met while dining in New York City restaurants. Superbosses take raw talent and build self-confidence. They hire for intelligence, creativity and flexibility — and are not afraid of people who may be smarter than they are.

Under Finkelstein’s definition of superbosses, Birdie would be categorized as a “glorious bastard”: someone who cares only about winning. Deep down, he had a good heart —  but was ruthless in setting expectations and driving people to work extremely hard. I’ll never forget him telling me that “Christmas was an optional holiday.” These bosses realize that, to get the very best results, they need to drive people to perform beyond what seems reasonable and achievable.

Even though I achieved a lot, I hated working for Birdie, because I had to neglect my family for months on end. This isn’t something I would ever do to my employees. My next boss, Gene Bedell, was very different. He left his job as managing director of information technology to found Seer Technologies, the start-up that IBM had funded. Bedell convinced me to leave my high-paying investment-banking job to join him in a No. 2 role, as chief technology officer, at the low-paying, high-risk, start-up.

Bedell was what Finkelstein calls a “nurturer”: someone who coaches, inspires and mentors. These superbosses take pride in bringing others along and care deeply about the success of their protégés; they help people accomplish more than they’d ever thought they could.

Bedell managed by a method he called “outstanding success possibilities.” He challenged his executives to set ultra-ambitious goals and then find unconventional ways to achieve them. Instead of managing to what was achievable and possible, we shot for the impossible. And then did whatever it took to get there — without worrying about failure or looking back. It is amazing what you can achieve when you have a single-minded focus. We took Seer Technologies from zero to $120 million in annual revenue and an IPO in just five years — faster than any other software company of that era, including Microsoft and Oracle.

Superbosses create master–apprentice relationships. They customize their coaching to what each protégé needs and are constant fonts of practical wisdom. Bedell taught me how to sell. A year after the company was formed, he sent me to Tokyo to sell IBM-Japan on an $8.6 million deal to fund the creation of a Japanese version of our product. I didn’t think that a techie like me could do these things; he taught me that selling was an art that could be learned and perfected. I helped our salespeople close more than $200 million in software deals. And that is another skill that superbosses have, building what Finkelstein calls the “cohort effect”: teamwork and competition combined. Lorne Michaels, for example, who created “Saturday Night Live,” judged writers and performers by how much of their material actually went to air — but they had to do it with the support of their coworkers, the people they were competing with.

A common trait of superbosses is the ability to delegate work and build jobs on the strengths of their subordinates. They trust subordinates to do their jobs and are as supportive as can be. They remain intimately involved in the details of the businesses and build true friendships. Bedell often invited my family to his vacation home near the Outer Banks of North Carolina. He took me to Skip Barber Racing School to learn how to race a Formula Ford and built a gym in his basement so that his executive team could lift weights together.

You will find the alumni of our project at Credit Suisse First Boston and Seer Technologies in senior leadership roles now, at companies such as IBM, PayPal, American Express and every one of the top investment banks. Many started their own companies, as I later did. There are literally hundreds of people who built successful careers because of my two superbosses. When I became an academic later in life, I was fortunate to have two superboss deans at Duke’s Pratt School of Engineering, Kristina Johnson and Tom Katsouleas, who nurtured me. Superbosses aren’t just in corporations — they can be found everywhere.

Yes, I know that I got lucky in having good bosses; most are jerks who demotivate employees, slow their growth, backstab and take credit for others’ work. You are usually stuck with whomever you get. But there is nothing that stops you from being a superboss. As you begin to achieve success, start helping others and nurturing your colleagues and subordinates. Show the leadership qualities that you’d like your own boss to have. You will gain as much as the people you help — and build a better company.

This article first appeared at the Washington Post.

Screening: More Does NOT Equal Better

In an important op-ed piece in the New York Times, “An Epidemic of Thyroid Cancer?”, Dr. H. Gilbert Welch from Dartmouth University wrote that he and his team of researchers found that the rate of thyroid cancer in South Korea has increased 15-fold!

15X! How can this be?!

Were South Koreans exposed to massive amounts of radiation? Did South Koreans start using some dangerous skin product?

No. And no.

South Korean doctors and the South Korean government encouraged increased cancer screening. More screening must be better, right?

No. Not at all…

This is an important concept for employee benefits professionals to understand: More screening is not necessarily better.

What happened in South Korea is that the thyroid cancer had been there all along, just undetected. The most common type of thyroid cancer — papillary thyroid cancer — is usually very slow-growing, and people with this cancer never know it is there. It does not affect their health, and it does not kill them. According to the article, it is estimated that 1/3 of ALL ADULTS have thyroid cancer.

Thyroid cancer screening is performed by an ultrasound of the neck. It is an un-invasive, painless, fairly simple test. So what happened in South Korea was not an epidemic of thyroid cancer but, as the article puts it, “an epidemic of diagnosis.”

There is potential harm in treating a cancer that will likely not cause you any problems. Two out of every 1,000 thyroid surgeries result in death. Removal of the thyroid means a person will have to take thyroid replacement medication for the rest of her life. This medication can be hard to adjust, leading to problems with metabolism, such as weight gain or low energy.

In the U.S., there are many screenings that the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has deemed “unproven” for application across entire populations of asymptomatic individuals. For example:

  • Screening the skin for skin cancer
  • Screening the carotid arteries (neck blood vessels) for narrowing

It is important to address the converse. Increased screening that has been shown to reduce morbidity and mortality is a good thing. Screening for high blood pressure is a good thing. Screening for diabetes is a good thing. Screening for certain types of cancers is a good thing.

What does this mean for the employee benefits professionals and the healthcare consumer?

  • Beware of “blanket” statements that more screening is better or of companies that are offering screenings that are not vetted.
  • Know that screening can actually cause harm because of side effects or complications of treatment for a “disease” that is really not a problem.
  • As you set up prevention programs for your employees, ensure that those programs are based on scientific evidence.