Unprecedented times are here to stay
The last eighteen months have been a once-in-a-lifetime experience for us, where nations closed their doors as the world was collectively ravaged by a pandemic. It was also a time where new ways of working, and the acceleration of digital adoption were made to happen. But what does this mean for innovation? It is the coming together of these two areas that we explore here in the context of innovation in the insurance sector – an experience we at Ninety continue to live out first-hand through these ongoing unprecedented times.
Employees’ lives have formed a new tempo with working from home the norm, or compulsory in some cases, and travel the exception. Teams coming together will be increasingly special events and curated in the same way external events used to be.
When it comes to innovating in insurance, we have seen the benefits and challenges.
First, the benefits:
- Democratisation of innovation: virtualisation has enabled teams to better leverage opportunities of a global and yet more local (less travelled) workforce and easily bring teams together to develop opportunities. We have experienced teams collaborating seamlessly on new innovations from across three continents, with the chance to get involved more accessible than ever before.
- Reduction of hierarchy: the clichéd board table setting would mean that the most senior voice in the room monopolised the discussion, with other participants defaulting to listen mode. We have found that in virtual settings, everyone can have a voice (whether happening naturally or orchestrated to start with), so that thoughts flow more interactively, and the best idea wins rather than those of the loudest or highest paid!
- Increase in effectiveness: we have found that the use of various tools including Miro boards, breakout rooms, instant voting and the like enable collaboration to be extremely effective and efficient. Combining these with plenty of interaction and stimulus means that innovation results can be as good, if not better than in the previous whiteboard world. And all without travel or expense.
- Growing the talent pool: with location less of a driving factor, where an insurer is based or headquartered becomes increasingly less relevant. A country player can now tap into an international market to develop specific innovation opportunities or technical skills in house. Similarly, a regional or global player can be much more flexible in how their skill base is deployed, leading to better outcomes for all.
Secondly, the challenges:
- Planting the seeds: innovation and new ideas come from unlikely places. Many are seeded or spurred on through ‘water cooler’ moments, over a coffee, a beer, across desks, between meetings, etc. Virtualisation has removed much of the inspiring settings and ability to spark off each other. The efficient Zoom / Teams based world we are currently in ‘gets stuff done’ but leaves little time for kicking things around which is often where seeds of ideas first germinate. A suggestion: make time in team meetings, 1:1s and the like for ‘free time’ discussion and introduce stimulus and interventions which deliberately stretch thinking – to seed and build out ideas in quite a deliberate but unstructured way.
- Making ideas tangible: we found that a huge benefit of f2f workshops and bringing teams together lay in building out ideas in real and tangible ways before our eyes. How do you inspire disparate groups sitting in kitchens, lounges, and studies in various locations to all focus in on a task at hand when there are a million and one other distractions, a reliance on technology and everyone is in their own bubble? A suggestion: use Miro boards and the like to enable groups in different locations to build out and work on the same ideas. Link the real with the virtual by sending materials and stimulus to colleagues’ homes, enabling them to experience the same thing and use these in an innovation context.
- The mobility of talent: talent is more mobile than ever – how do you retain quality talent in the innovation space when the threat is not just other businesses or sectors in your HQ postcode area, but across insurers and other sectors globally? A suggestion: Develop internal entrepreneurs, giving them the freedom and space to develop out new opportunities and to deploy the resources (knowledge, colleagues, distribution, etc.) to further explore and experiment and bring new ideas to market. Enable them to grow with these new opportunities and sow the seeds.
And finally, a welcome challenge for the future. In a hybrid and disparate world how do you co-ordinate innovation and prioritise? We suggest that the answer lies in empowerment with orchestration – a highly aligned but loosely coupled model. Pick the innovation themes but let the ideas and approaches flow. Zoom or Teams? Office or WFH? Ultimately it does not matter. What matters is innovating effectively and harnessing the talent that you have. Do this and the possibilities are endless – unprecedented times or not!
If you are interested in reading more about the innovation culture and people side of innovation see our new whitepaper “People & Culture in insurance Innovation” and you’d like to find out more about how we’ve embraced new ways of working to facilitate innovation at Ninety, feel free to reach out to us at email@example.com.