Part of our Innoflections series: senior reflections on insurance innovation written by guest author Hélène Stanway
I often reflect on innovation in corporate life and how it’s both viewed and frequently treated, whether it be ‘off the side of a desk’ or someone’s or a team’s raison d’être.
In Dan’s recent blog, he put forward a hypothesis that ‘an inability to place value on innovation leads to its demise in an organization’.
Whilst yes, you can de-risk innovation [logic, the head], unless we connect with the person [emotion, the heart], can innovation really succeed? Ultimately, it’s the people at the heart (pun intended) that will, or indeed won’t, adopt the innovation and therefore whether it will or won’t succeed. How many fantastic ideas and innovations have fallen by the wayside because the people didn’t get energised and excited by the idea enough to take a personal risk to make it happen, even with a de-risked, positive ROI.
So, yes to Dan (of course!) and…my hypothesis… why a rock-solid business case will only get you so far; the missing success factor… the people.
Whilst this is by no means an exhaustive list, here are a few stories… tales from the front line, if you will.
The one with the innovators
One of the pieces of feedback I received whilst leading an innovation team, and which will always stick with me, was: Why are you working with team x? Their book of business is tiny compared to team y. Your innovation ROI is too small, deprioritise it.
And yet, why did I work with team x? (and continue to do so even after that ‘advice’). Simple, it was because of the people. Team x wanted to do something different, they wanted to use new tools, new insights, innovate directly with clients. Team y… did not have the same mindset. I tried that; it was painful, slow and everyone ended up frustrated. That work I did deprioritise!
By working with people who are willing to challenge, take a personal risk, work with you to pivot and solve problems, that is where you can build a great case study, even if it is smaller.
Then, it’s all about telling others, showing others, showcasing that innovation does work. Get team y curious that it can be done by building that psychological proof and then they ask ‘Huh… what’s that team over there doing? I want some of that’ and then you ‘win’.
Eric Ries noted this in The Startup Way: you can build and prove a model in a small corner of the organisation and then use that to spread the ‘good news’ across to larger, more ROI-heavy portions of the organisation. Best of all, clearly, is to have the willing people in an ROI-heavy area already, but those areas tend to be more difficult to change (supertanker / too BAU / the organisation is too reliant on their revenue).
The one with the tinkerers
This really should be old news but it’s not…and does it matter?
Most organisations do not effectively prioritise innovation and yet plenty of really good ideas make it through the corporate treacle despite not having a pot of gold as a reward. Again, it’s about the people… those that are intrinsically driven to take a good idea, mould it, experiment with it, socialise it; they feel that fear and put themselves out there anyway. They find a network of people to get it done ‘off the side of their desk’ with the knowledge and satisfaction that their idea is out there. It takes people with the right mindset, persistence and resilience.
The one with the intrapreneur
I have had the pleasure of working on many innovative ideas and those that ‘made it’ were a result of diverse teams working on the idea alongside inspirational leaders who did take a bet on the new and different, giving us the aircover we needed. Not only the diverse perspectives, across and outside the organisation but it was those people who were comfortable not knowing, learning as they went, getting it wrong and course correcting (that word resilience again!); being okay with not having the answers upfront and relishing the uncertainty.
Corporately of course, you need to have innovation aligned to a plan and ROI otherwise ‘the business’ won’t let it succeed as it’s not seen as important if it doesn’t add value or contribute.
But it’s the people and mindset that will make it work in practical terms. The secret was finding the right people to work with, building use cases and building proof that innovation can work, and then new ideas do make it through; making something that was very uncertain and unfamiliar accessible to those more risk-averse.
So, you really need both to align – and for me, the people come first – in the end it really is a people sport….
Words and thoughts are my own.
Note: this is part of our Innoflections series: senior reflections on insurance innovation. A space for big ideas. We’re happy to share this space from time to time, so get in touch for a chat if you’ve got a big idea to share.