Tag Archives: network

Let’s Make Lemons Out of Lemonade

Especially since the announcement of its plans by Lemonade, there’s been an awful lot of buzz and concern about the arrival of so many new disruptive technologies and how they’re going to change the insurance marketplace. Many of these changes are welcome, bring benefits broadly and root out inefficiencies and costs in places where they should be reduced. I say, more power to them.

Some people, however, fear that new selling systems will reduce or eliminate the need for producers and brokers, who are such a part of the traditional insurance buyer’s journey. That will happen to some extent but will only disrupt your business if you let it.

The ancient warrior Sun Tzu said, “Swift as the wind. Quiet as the forest. Conquer like the fire. Steady as the mountain.”

When the enemy is at the gates, you’d better be ready to both defend your holdings and also strike out strongly to expand your position. Here are four ways you can both hold your ground and expand your territory by using the unique advantage and value positioning that you already have today:

See also: Lemonade: A Whole New Paradigm  

1. Your Network is Your Net Worth. Focus on identifying a group of network partners who will become what I’ll call your “A list,” where you’ll be building deep, high-trust relationships. Network partners should be professionals in your market area, your city or county who are already serving people who look like they’d also be ideal target clients for the products/services you feature.

Imagine having a group of 10 to 12 other key professionals who agree to work together as a team, a trusted team, an inner circle. Now consider they are all committed to and known for delivering the highest-quality products and services and all then actively agree to introduce each other to clients when the need for another’s products become apparent. Once this team is formed, there are myriad ways that members can nurture relationships and promote each other without being costly or over the top. You will increase the value you’re each delivering to clients, and, then, your network will grow your net worth. (Here are 17 ways to build your business by working with referral partners.)

2. Engagement. How many times have you wondered if a service provider you were working with really cared or was committed to you after the sale was made? Many times, I’ve thought, “Because I haven’t heard from XYZ in so long, maybe I should just check out what I can learn online.” Sadly, I’ve had that thought many times with my insurance providers, who let the gap in the relationship build and made me feel unappreciated (except maybe at renewal time). In one case, I went so many years without hearing from my provider that I switched brokers.

Today, web marketers have positioned themselves to exploit your weakness if lack of engagement is your modus operandi. But know, this weakness is so easy to fix. With just a little focus here, you’ll produce huge results.

A highly reliable survey conducted over many years showed that professionals who stayed in touch with their clients in various informative and personal ways every two to three weeks had extraordinary retention rates and virtually a 100% incidence of getting referrals! Lower that engagement level, or make conversations just about sales, and that referral rate fell to no higher than 7%.

I found those results amazing. I still do.

Building highly engaged relationships with your clients by staying in touch personally is easy and is the best offense against the wave of disrupters trying to move your clients over to their offerings.

3. Influence. Give and Give. A few years ago, Arizona State University Professor Dr. Robert Cialdini wrote a seminal book titled, Influence: The Power of Persuasion. It speaks to the amazing human force or emotion I’ll call “the law of reciprocity”: When one receives something of value from someone, there’s usually a desire ultimately to give something back. So imagine what happens with your clients, your trusted network, even your friends and family when you are building your stance as the “giver.”

Getting in touch, staying in touch, giving and giving, in various ways produces huge returns as the people you give to build this desire to reciprocate. In this “economy of giving,” everyone benefits, and it is very, very hard for an outside influence to come in and dislocate this relationship. We’ve seen many insurance professionals apply this process in a systematic way to a small group of key connections and end up with as many as 40 new referred opportunities in just 90 days.

Relationship “glue,” higher retention and a filled new prospect pipeline… how does that sound as a good offense to face the external market changes coming at you.

4. Do Your Job! That comes from coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots, and, regardless of your feelings about the Pats, his simple demand has helped produce the most consistent success among all NFL teams over the last 15 years.

Yet so many of us don’t work the process in a consistent, disciplined manner. Instead, we float from idea to tactics to new idea, and the simple things that are so clear and proven fall by the wayside or slip through the cracks. Imagine what a “15 minutes a day” new habit of following the steps above might do for you and your clients, for your 2017 and for the long-term viability of your business. Imagine how your producers could move from struggles to abundant pipelines with a little more structure and focus on the basics… of simply doing the job of building deep, connected relationships with clients and influencers in your market area. Things will very quickly turn “right side up” across all areas of your business.

See also: Why Can’t We All Get Along?  

So if you’re concerned about the markets running away from you because of outside forces, stop and make a decision to do the things that are fundamental to every good business. Get yourself and your team aligned on the right behaviors and focused on making a daily effort on the steps that will withstand the intruders.

You’ll not only have a defensible castle with a huge moat around it for your business, but you’ll be building a strong offense and growth pathway that makes your business even more valuable. You be taking Lemonade and other threats and turning them back into nice, juicy lemons.

I’ll guarantee the ROI on your following these steps will produce so much more than any other marketing or social media programs you might be considering.

What Trump Means for Best Practices

On Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016, the majority of a major minority of the people in this country opened the window, stuck their heads out and yelled just as Howard Beale instructed in Network: “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore.”

The rest will be history. Power to the people!

As you and your organization move from yesterday, through today (2016) to tomorrow (2020), will you complete this “first term” into the future, be thrown out before your term is complete or be reelected by a landslide? The choice will be made by the marketplace.

Your performance is determined by your clients and prospects — your voters — not your measurements of “best practices” and “peer studies.” Best practices are the judgment of our peers comparing us with our “superior” peers. Best practices are inside baseball. They’re all about us – our industry.

In Tuesday’s election, despite all the best practices and peer studies that meant all the media “knew” that Hillary Clinton was the winner – SHE LOST!

The media knew she would win not from some impulsive whim but rather through history, polls, the wisdom of the elders of their tribes (Democrats, Republicans, independents) and those who had grown up in the industry of government – lobbyists, consultants, pollsters, elected officials, etc. As a practical matter, 16 of the most successful players in the Republican party scoffed during the primaries at the idea that a reality-TV star should be taken seriously.

On the other side, the Democratic party in its arrogance ignored millions of outsiders (the children of their insiders plus many of the alienated members of their tribe) who marched in protest behind and beside democratic socialist Bernie Sanders.

See also: What Trump Means for Workplace Wellness  

Now do you understand? THE MARKETPLACE HAS CHANGED!

Enough about politics. Let’s get back to real life – marketing in a dynamic and divided world. Tomorrow is not about the mass market of yesterday. It is about the narrow niches of tomorrow (left-handed diesel mechanics who smoke, or some other affinity group you’ve never considered), their affinity and your knowledge of and intimacy with them, their wants, needs expertise, culture, etc.

I recently worked with a non-profit organization that had it all: good people serving a marketplace that their peers would “die for,” plus a membership group with sophistication, economics and education that any niche would envy. The organization included a successful history of 50-plus years and, unfortunately, the baggage and culture problems that nearly always accompany such success. The organization had become “dumb, fat and happy,” focused internally in their comfort zone, and they had let their finger slip off the pulse of their individual members.

These very good folks in this organization had done what far too many folks do after an era of success. They existed in their comfort zone versus working to ensure that their clients were comfortable! Conversations about the “good old days” outnumbered asking “what if,” “what now,” and “what next?” They were looking internally at each other versus at the future!

Don’t believe me: Test this on your team! Gather your team or a cross section of your team for a futuring group meeting. Draw a circle large enough to hold the assembled group. Ask them to stand on the circumference of the circle to discuss the future. What will happen? Will most (or all) face each other, or will they turn their back on the “history” inside the circle and look at the possibilities on the horizon?

Whether you think the above is silly or provocative, the reality is this: Your current processes are perfectly designed to get the results they are already getting.

Twenty-three years ago, I naively suggested we “change the culture.” After I tried this a few times and had my rear end handed to me, I learned that to change the culture you must change the people. But this is a foolish fantasy in a world filled with humans with free will and the ability to sabotage change. (Remember Maxine’s wisdom, “Change is good as long as I don’t have to do anything different.”)

I then evolved to a more real model suggesting you work to maximize the results that can be obtained in the culture you have. Now with decades of scar tissue, I know better. In fact, Harvard Business Review in its April 2016 cover story, agreed with me – YOU CAN’T FIX CULTURE; just focus on your business, and the rest will follow.

See also: What Trump Means for Business  

I’ll wrap up this monologue with three slides from a recent planning retreat that acknowledge that you can’t fix culture — but that you can do other things:

  1. You can’t fix culture, but EACH OF US CAN GROW!
  2. You can’t fix culture, but ALL OF US CAN COLLABORATE BETTER!
  3. The final slide included seven words and one picture. The picture said it all, with a young woman with a “sad face” looking down and back over her shoulder to a yesterday of hurt and a “happy face” young lady looking up and out at the positive possibilities on the horizon! The words – “IT’S ALL ABOUT WHICH WAY YOU LOOK!”

On-Demand Economy Is Just Starting

Fifteen years ago, the idea of having access to any bit of information you could possibly want at your fingertips was outrageous. In 2001, you could get access to the Internet from your phone, but the experience would be slooooow, and it might cost you hundreds of dollars. Dial-up Internet from desktop computers – remember them? – was still very much a thing. Now, people carry smartphones that give them instant access to just about anyone, to every bit of news and to almost all the knowledge in recorded history.

People use those devices mostly to watch videos of singing goats and people failing at dunking a basketball, but that’s a different story.

The point is that technology, such as smartphones and smart watches, has created an on-demand world where gratification needs to be instant. When someone decides he wants something, he doesn’t want it in two hours. He doesn’t want it in 20 minutes. He wants it now. And, he wants it at the push of a button.

As the trajectory of the last 15 years shows, the trend toward on-demand will only continue, perhaps even accelerate.

The main driver, as usual, is good, old Moore’s Law, which has seen the computing power of a chip double every year and a half to two years since the 1960s at no increase in cost. Moore’s Law is why a gigabyte of memory, which cost $300,000 in the mid-1980s, today costs less than a penny, and why, despite some technology headwinds for Moore’s Law, we’ll have devices hundreds of times as powerful as today’s before kids born this year enter high school.

Other “laws,” such as Metcalfe’s, continue to drive the value of networks at an exponential rate. So-called “network effects” are why millennials rarely have their phones more than a foot away and why there is so much effort to make devices even more accessible – in front of your eyes, a la the failed-but-not-forever-dead Google Glass, or on your wrist as a “watch.” Nicholas Negroponte, the founder of the MIT Media Lab, has argued for years that we’ll eventually wind up with cellphones surgically implanted behind our jaws, where they will have easy access to our vocal cords and our ears.

But Moore’s Law and Metcalfe’s and the others that have driven the unbelievable progress in computing are just the start. Now, three more factors are kicking in, increasing the pace toward the on-demand world. First, sensors and cameras are wiring more and more of the world every day. Second, people are coming up with new business models that build on these new capabilities in surprising and powerful ways. Third, the effects will spread to what is sometimes referred to as “the next billion” (and the billion after that). Those of us in the developed world won’t have all the fun; the rest of the world will join in.

Sensors and Cameras

Fitbit et al. track every step you take and every calorie you burn, and they’re just the beginning. People have begun talking about the “Internet in Me.” The idea is that you might ingest some small sensor that will report from inside your blood stream about blood pressure, blood sugar, etc. A wireless signal – powered by the abundant electricity inside us – would send the information to your phone or watch, which would relay any necessary information to a doctor or some sort of healthcare provider.

Drones are everywhere. They can check crops, monitor disasters or do whatever. In fact, woe to the next generation of teenagers – parents can now just keep a drone in the home and have it fly around from time to time to see if Junior is having a party while they’re away.

Our mobile phones constantly provide information on traffic flow, based simply on how fast they’re moving in our cars. (When is the last time you saw a traffic copter, let alone a thin rubber hose across a road that tripped a counter every time a car ran over it?) Waze has layered crowdsourcing on top of the data from mobile phones, encouraging people to report accidents and other delays, to fine-tune maps and so forth. Nauto, a start-up, is trying to add another layer by getting fleet operators—and, eventually, individual drivers—to put cameras in vehicles (one looking at the road, one looking at the driver) with the initial goal to improve safety. If enough of Nauto’s cameras are on the road, they will provide a real-time look at the world. Want a parking spot right now? Nauto can tell you about the one that opened up 30 seconds ago a block away.

Google is gathering information in real time about diseases like the flu – it can report when and where a lot of people start searching for information about certain symptoms. Even our thoughts and emotions are getting wired. Historically, in presidential elections, people conducted the occasional opinion poll, so you’d have a sense of the result of the debate a week or so later. Now, people monitor Twitter streams and Google searches in real time to assess who won and who lost. Those feelings then get aggregated in prediction markets that are far more accurate than political observers ever were. Of course, a lot of effort gets put into figuring out presidential elections because of the stakes involved, but this kind of wiring and immediate response will spread into other areas, as well.

The physical world is being folded into the digital one through hacks such as QR codes, which let magazine readers scan them to figure out where they can purchase an outfit or whatever else is in an image. Amazon’s voice-activated Alexa sits in the middle of a room and allows people to buy something through Amazon right when they think of it, even if they don’t have their phone near them.

Our lives divide into two parts these days: Those that are wired and those that will be wired. 

New Business Models

Just Google “the Uber of,” and you’ll see how much a single inventive business model can change things. You’ll be prompted with companies offering the Uber of trucking, dog walking, laundry, snowplows, tennis partners dentistry and much more. There is a powerful example in the insurance industry: WeGoLook, which is being called the “Uber of claims handling.” If a carrier needs a picture of a car, it can send someone out from the office, or it can draw on the tens of thousands of freelancers affiliated with WeGoLook and have one of them take the necessary pictures and gather the information. Especially in rural areas, it can be a lot cheaper to have a local person gather the information than to send someone out from a regional office. And, through the wonders of information technology, WeGoLook can be so thoroughly integrated into a carrier’s system that the person asking for the photos, etc. doesn’t need to even think about whether the request is being fed to an internal person or to WeGoLook.

Even without totally new business models, tweaks are accelerating the pace of the economy. Seamless, the on-demand food delivery service, has shaken things up by making it much easier for customers to order food for takeout or delivery. Venmo has become popular among millennials by greatly simplifying the process of sharing costs and, in general, making small payments to each other.

Amazon went from “delivery some time” to mostly two-day delivery, via Prime. Now it is working hard to get to same-day delivery and is even experimenting with drones that could deliver within perhaps 20 minutes.

These business model changes will keep unfolding, too, in many cases like a slow-motion train wreck. You can already see some of the ways that 3D printing will step up the pace – you just click on the image of a hairbrush you want and have it start printing in your office immediately. Or look at the news business. Remember weekly news magazines like Time, Newsweek and BusinessWeek? Not only have they gone away but even daily publications like the Wall Street Journal have had to switch to instantaneous publication online – no more holding the big stories for the print edition the next morning. Those of us of a certain age remember what a big deal it was when Monday Night Football showed highlights from the day before. Now, we don’t even have to wait for Sports Center at the end of a game. We can just call up a highlight on our phones. If you look at the changes going on at CNN, you can see that its mission has changed, because there is a new form of 24-hour news network: It’s called the Internet, and it’s “on-demand” — no need to keep Wolf Blitzer droning on in the background.

The Next Billion

As more and more people from countries such as China and India and places in Africa enter the middle class, they will get access to all the technologies that drive the on-demand economy in the rest of the world. In some cases, they will even leapfrog us. In Kenya, for instance, growth in the traditional sort of banking is stunted even as the economy grows, because people use their mobile phones to exchange money. Who wants to go to a bank and wait for a teller?

And these changes in technology, business models and demographics are just the things we know about. You can be quite sure that lots of clever people are already at work on other ways that will speed the move toward the high-speed economy.

Think of the shift in the economy as the move from the demand curve to the on-demand curve.

6 Technologies That Will Define 2016

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 the sorts of technological breakthroughs I describe in this article 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.

Over the past century, the price and performance of computing has been on an exponential curve. And, as futurist Ray Kurzweil observed, once any technology becomes an information technology, its development follows the same curve. So, we are seeing exponential advances in technologies such as sensors, networks, artificial intelligence and robotics. The convergence of these technologies is making amazing things possible.

Last year was the tipping point in the global adoption of the Internet, digital medical devices, blockchain, gene editing, drones and solar energy. This year will be the beginning of an even bigger revolution, one that will change the way we live, let us visit new worlds and lead us into a jobless future. However, with every good thing, there comes a bad; wonderful things will become possible, but with them we will create new problems for mankind.

Here are six of the technologies that will make the change happen.

1. Artificial intelligence

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There is merit to the criticism of AI—even though computers have beaten chess masters and Jeopardy players and have learned to talk to us and drive cars. AI such as Siri and Cortana is still imperfect and infuriating. Yes, those two systems crack jokes and tell us the weather, but they are nothing like the seductive digital assistant we saw in the movie “Her.” In the artificial-intelligence community, there is a common saying: “AI is whatever hasn’t been done yet.” People call this the “AI effect.” Skeptics discount the behavior of an artificial intelligence program by arguing that, rather than being real intelligence, it is just brute force computing and algorithms.

But this is about to change, to the point even the skeptics will say that AI has arrived. There have been major advances in “deep learning” neural networks, which learn by ingesting large amounts of data. IBM has taught its AI system, Watson, everything from cooking, to finance, to medicine and to Facebook. Google and Microsoft have made great strides in face recognition and human-like speech systems. AI-based face recognition, for example, has almost reached human capability. And IBM Watson can diagnose certain cancers better than any human doctor can.

With IBM Watson being made available to developers, Google open-sourcing its deep-learning AI software and Facebook releasing the designs of its specialized AI hardware, we can expect to see a broad variety of AI applications emerging because entrepreneurs all over the world are taking up the baton. AI will be wherever computers are, and it will seem human-like.

Fortunately, we don’t need to worry about superhuman AI yet; that is still a decade or two away.

2. Robots

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The 2015 DARPA Robotics Challenge required robots to navigate over an eight-task course that simulated a disaster zone. It was almost comical to see them moving at the speed of molasses, freezing up and falling over. Forget folding laundry and serving humans; these robots could hardly walk. While we heard some three years ago that Foxconn would replace a million workers with robots in its Chinese factories, it never did so.

Breakthroughs may, however, be at hand. To begin with, a new generation of robots is being introduced by companies—such as Switzerland’s ABB, Denmark’s Universal Robots, and Boston’s Rethink Robotics—robots dextrous enough to thread a needle and sensitive enough to work alongside humans. They can assemble circuits and pack boxes. We are at the cusp of the industrial-robot revolution.

Household robots are another matter. Household tasks may seem mundane, but they are incredibly difficult for machines to perform. Cleaning a room and folding laundry necessitate software algorithms that are more complex than those required to land a man on the moon. But there have been many breakthroughs of late, largely driven by AI, enabling robots to learn certain tasks by themselves and by teaching each other what they have learned. And with the open source robotic operating system (ROS), thousands of developers worldwide are getting close to perfecting the algorithms.

Don’t be surprised when robots start showing up in supermarkets and malls—and in our homes. Remember Rosie, the robotic housekeeper from the TV series “The Jetsons”?  I am expecting version No. 1 to begin shipping in the early 2020s.

3. Self-driving cars

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Once considered to be in the realm of science fiction, autonomous cars made big news in 2015. Google crossed the million-mile mark with its prototypes; Tesla began releasing functionality in its cars; and major car manufacturers announced their plans for robocars. These cars are coming, whether or not we are ready. And, just as the robots will, they will learn from each other—about the landscape of our roads and the bad habits of humans.

In the next year or two, we will see fully functional robocars being tested on our highways, and then they will take over our roads. Just as the horseless carriage threw horses off the roads, these cars will displace us humans. Because they won’t crash into each other as we humans do, the robocars won’t need the bumper bars or steel cages, so they will be more comfortable and lighter. Most will be electric. We also won’t have to worry about parking spots, because they will be able to drop us where we want to go to and pick us up when we are ready. We won’t even need to own our own cars, because transportation will be available on demand through our smartphones. Best of all, we won’t need speed limits, so distance will be less of a barrier—enabling us to leave the cities and suburbs.

4. Virtual reality and holodecks

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In March, Facebook announced the availability of its much-anticipated virtual reality headset, Oculus Rift. And Microsoft, Magic Leap and dozens of startups aren’t far behind with their new technologies. The early versions of these products will surely be expensive and clumsy and cause dizziness and other adverse reactions, but prices will fall, capabilities will increase and footprints will shrink as is the case with all exponential technologies. 2016 will mark the beginning of the virtual reality revolution.

Virtual reality will change how we learn and how we entertain ourselves. Our children’s education will become experiential, because they will be able to visit ancient Greece and journey within the human body. We will spend our lunchtimes touring far-off destinations and our evenings playing laser tag with friends who are thousands of miles away. And, rather than watching movies at IMAX theaters, we will be able to be part of the action, virtually in the back seat of every big-screen car chase.

5. Internet of Things

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Mark Zuckerberg recently announced plans to create his own artificially intelligent, voice-controlled butler to help run his life at home and at work. For this, he will need appliances that can talk to his digital butler: a connected home, office and car. These are all coming, as CES, the big consumer electronics tradeshow in Las Vegas, demonstrated. From showerheads that track how much water we’ve used, to toothbrushes that watch out for cavities, to refrigerators that order food that is running out, all these items are on their way.

Starting in 2016, everything will be be connected, including our homes and appliances, our cars, street lights and medical instruments. These will be sharing information with each other (perhaps even gossiping about us) and will introduce massive security risks as well as many efficiencies. We won’t have much choice because they will be standard features—just as are the cameras on our smart TVs that stare at us and the smartphones that listen to everything we say.

6. Space

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Rockets, satellites and spaceships were things that governments built. That is, until Elon Musk stepped into the ring in 2002 with his startup SpaceX. A decade later, he demonstrated the ability to dock a spacecraft with the International Space Station and return with cargo. A year later, he launched a commercial geostationary satellite. And then, in 2015, out of the blue, came another billionaire, Jeff Bezos, whose space company Blue Origin launched a rocket 100 kilometers into space and landed its booster within five feet of its launch pad. SpaceX achieved the feat a month later.

It took a space race in the 1960s between the U.S. and the USSR to even get man to the moon. For decades after this, little more happened, because there was no one for the U.S. to compete with. Now, thanks to technology costs falling so far that space exploration can be done for millions—rather than billions—of dollars and the raging egos of two billionaires, we will see the breakthroughs in space travel that we have been waiting for. Maybe there’ll be nothing beyond some rocket launches and a few competitive tweets between Musk and Bezos in 2016, but we will be closer to having colonies on Mars.

This surely is the most innovative period in human history, an era that will be remembered as the inflection point in exponential technologies that made the impossible possible.