When you’re part of an established company that’s almost 100 years old, it’s easy to keep doing things that same way.

But to succeed in business in the 21st century, it’s important to embrace change, said Jeremy Johnson, president of U.S. Commercial Insurance at New York City-based American International Group Inc., and president and CEO of AIG-owned Lexington Insurance Co. Johnson spoke on “Building a Sustainable Culture of Innovation” at the Entrepreneurial Insurance Symposium, held Sept. 7–8, in Dallas.

As insurance professionals, it’s key to stay focused on the mission of helping clients manage risk, Johnson began. “Every time we price risk, we send a message to the marketplace on how safe risk is.”

The insurance industry helps companies invest and grow, he added, by helping risk managers make the world a safer place. In turn, technology helps the insurance industry make the world safer.

Keep reading for his thoughts on what it takes to encourage employees to innovate and to maintain that culture in an organization like AIG.

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1. Embrace change, starting at the top

“At AIG, you have to embrace change,” Johnson explained. He recommended looking for employees who have shown a tendency to be resilient and adaptable in many situations.

Johnson also said he believes that it’s important to push decision making as close to the client as possible to be able to adjust to changing conditions as needed. This has helped AIG have a 94 percent retention rate with large national accounts, he noted.

“But innovation only works when management supports it,” he said.

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2. Create time and space for ideas

Employees need down time, Johnson noted, as well as time to just think, which is difficult to do when employees are always connected to work.

Johnson encouraged the audience to create workplaces that allow employees to exchange ideas in casual as well as formal settings. He also encouraged the audience to provide an atmosphere in which employees feel comfortable proposing changes from the bottom up.

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3. Engage and empower the most innovative employees

AIG has a 12-week program called “Innovation Boot Camp” that has generated dozens of new products and services Johnson said.

It started as a way to build community, and it’s being leveraged across the company, which has 64,000 employees in 90 countries. 

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4. Forge alliances outside the insurance industry

Johnson said he believes that it’s important to have formal and informal partnerships outside IT and the insurance industry.

AIG is investing in wearable technology with Human Condition Global, which describes itself as a “think and do tank,” to develop wearables to improve worker safety.

The AIG Innovation Center is located in San Francisco near Amazon and Verizon, Johnson noted, which encourages an innovative mindset and may create opportunities to innovate with other companies.

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5. Use innovation to help clients reach their goals

Using drone technology is one way insurance companies can use emerging technology to help their clients manage risk.

Johnson cited the example of flying a drone through a client’s warehouse to create a map of the existing sprinkler system. AIG then used artificial intelligence to determine whether the building had enough fire protection and the appropriate coverage.

Johnson also discussed using virtual reality for training safety and risk managers. The technology can help train a new generation of engineers and workers without putting them in harm’s way.

“The number one entity that U.S. businesses trust most with their data before anyone else it the P&C [property and casualty] insurance industry,” Johnson said. He advised insurance companies to leverage the data they have available to help clients understand what’s driving the risk in their organizations as well as their industry.