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NAILBA 32: Out of chaos, opportunity

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“As we’ve seen time and again, serendipity depends on the flow of ideas and the intermingling of unlikely people. Organizational silos are the enemy of serendipity: it’s hard to find serendipity in a cubicle.”—The Chaos Imperative, by Ori Brafman.

Speaking at the annual NAILBA Conference, being held this week at the Gaylord Texan facility outside of Dallas, chairman Raymond Phillips spoke about how chaos in the insurance industry (and the economy at large) is really a sign of opportunity for independent agents.

“These are chaotic times,” Phillips said. The industry, he alluded, is being strained on many levels. “You have Obamacare. You have legislative issues with suitability. But I have faith in us because the most ingenious strategies come out of periods of chaos.”

To sell his theme, he quoted often from Ori Brafman’s book, The Chaos Imperative. The book’s subtitle underscored the message Phillips wanted to relay to the audience: “How change and disruption increase innovation, effectiveness and success.”

That sentence is a mouthful and flies in the face for many in an industry known for stability. But for Phillips, stability does not have to mean unwavering stodginess; stability means seizing the moment when the moment presents itself, so you remain standing when the smoke clears. 

“You don’t get much wisdom from your crowd if everyone in your crowd is the same.”—The Chaos Imperative.

When Phillips was 28 and still getting his feet wet in the industry, he attended his first big insurance event. As with many independent advisors, up until that conference, Phillips held fast to an endangered motto: advisor as lone wolf—aaaawooooooooooh.

As far back as 1989, Phillips saw the error of the lone wolf’s path. After the day’s speakers concluded, the real nuggets of wisdom were dispensed as well as cold beer. In a hospitality tent, Phillips found himself alone with four of the biggest advisors in the business. All of them hailing “from below the Mason Dixon Line,” Phillips, a Pittsburgh native, felt out of place both culturally and from a production standpoint.

The four horsemen let the kid hang around perhaps at his own expense. “They chewed me up and spit me out,” Phillips said. “But it was a life changing experience. It was my baptism in the business.”

Phillips said those veteran insurance men taught him a valuable lesson that he has held fast to for nearly 25 years: “Have a beer with as many people in this business as possible.”

For Phillips, “having a beer” has both a literal and a figurative connotation. “I’m Pittsburgh to the core,” he told the audience. “My dad was a steel worker. In that class, ‘having a beer’ was much more than having a malt beverage. It meant extending an olive branch.”

“Information does not change behavior. If it did, none of us would smoke and we’d all floss.”—The Chaos Imperative. 

Ever since that night, Phillips has had a “beer” with as many bright people in and out of the business as possible. He’s learned from all of them — some of them above and some of them below the Mason Dixon Line, and, through these networks and strategic alliances, it’s made him a better advisor, one who can find opportunity out of chaos.

See also:

Let your company’s idea monkeys run wild

Juli McNeely speaking at NAILBA 32

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