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Who Says Ideas Are A Dime A Dozen?

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Over the past several decades, most insurance companies have embraced and adopted a wide array of approaches to classical strategic planning. Nevertheless, I’ve observed in the time that Ive either been inside a home office, or served as a consultant to a number of companies, that few insurers have adopted the same healthy attitude toward pursuing creative, free-form, and innovative strategic thinking and planning.

Could this be because many insurers are run by “left-brain” analyticals who are comfortable with classical strategic planning as historically preached by the BoozAllens and McKinseys of the world, but who mainly play lip service to really off-the-wall creative thinking?

The good news is that things are beginning to change rapidly within the entire consulting industry, and insurance companies are starting to realize that part of their “differentiation” in the future is going to be predicated on doing things differently from how theyve done them in the past. This means not only thinking outside the nine dots, but also pretending there really are no dots at all to connect.

I have identified one company whose founder comes from the 3M school where creative thinking and innovation formed an unparalleled corporate culture of nurturing and reward. The insurance industry, by contrast, tended to reward and foster “no” players during the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, and it’s a culture that unfortunately still exists within some companies today.

“No” players are those people who actually rise to the top in many organizations simply by saying “no” to almost every new idea, realizing that in the majority of situations they will be right and avoid mistakes, sometimes very costly ones.

The problem with “no” players is that although they avoid some major mistakes or opportunities that never materialize or that lead down blind alleys, they also miss out on opportunities that can literally transform companies, leading them into directions that will create an entire new value proposition in todays volcanic environment.

But, what many companies are discovering today is that the study and pursuit of creativity and innovative thinking is no longer the sole territory of wild-eyed creatives who envision prototypes of rubberized seatbelts for Edsels.

Granted, there are still many out there with great creative solutions for which there are no real problems. And there are some whose ideas can eat up resources with little tangible results. Nevertheless, combining the free-wheeling part of strategic creative thinking with the attributes of classic strategic planning is now a process that the most forward-thinking companies are embracing with vigor.

In a paper, “When Worlds Collide–The Uneasy Fusion of Strategy and Innovation,” Robert Krinsky, a principal and founder of IdeaScope in the Boston office, and Anthony Jenkins, an associate in the San Francisco office, write: “The primary focus of those who work in the world of corporate innovation has been to shatter the belief that creativity is a mysterious force that happens randomly and capriciously. During the first 40 of its 55 years, practitioners were devoted to proving that creativity can, in fact, be fostered, applied, and managed within an organizational context. This managed application of creativity can happen at four distinct levels: the individual, the team, the business unit, and the corporation. Each of these levels can be matched with a unique corporate activity, that of R&D, new product development, new business development, and new industry development.”

Actually what is happening is that two industries are coming together, blending the skills and strengths of each. The more staid analytical strategic planning industry and the wild-eyed funky advertising world are merging.

Imagine a scene in a corporate boardroom. On one side of the conference room table is a group of mid-50 to 60ish corporate types dressed in gray herringbone suits. Across from them is a group of blue- and red-dyed-hair twentysomethings with earrings and clothed in something anyone in my generation would only have worn if they had been at Woodstock.

Im not suggesting this is the approach companies need to take, but only trying to set the mood for the fact that “ideas,” not looks and appearances, will shape the future and companies need to align themselves with those who can stimulate, enhance, divide, multiply, add, subtract and leverage new and old ideas, which with just the right new “spin” will work better or help create entire new industries.

Ford reinvented the Mustang of the 60s; Chrysler, with the PT Cruiser, combined the practicality of an SUV with the sexy look of a 60s dragster.

On the financial services side, look, for example, at the “out of the box” thinking banks are beginning to take concerning expanding the potential of ATMs, which are just about everywhere.

An article, “Banks Start Cashing in on ATMs Potential,” in the April 20-26, 2001 issue of the Atlanta Business Chronicle, lists some of the options “Synergistic Research Corp.” offered in a survey of expanded activities persons would be most likely to do at ATMs. (See chart.)

And 43% in the survey indicated they would pay an extra $2 fee per activity to do these things.

How many people currently pay for their insurance premiums by pre-authorized check? How many companies are talking with banks about some creative offerings totally outside the box?

There is a new breed of consulting firms out there, and if the leaders of our industry are smart, they will recognize that this is the only way we will become the “swallowers” rather than the “swallowees.”

, CLU, ChFC, FLMI, SRM, is principal of Littell Consulting Services, Atlanta, Ga. E-mail him at [email protected].

Reproduced from National Underwriter Life & Health/Financial Services Edition, June 11, 2001. Copyright 2001 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.

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