Innovation - What can the insurance industry learn from Steve Jobs and Apple?

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12 February 2013
Jamie Macgregor
I’m guessing that somewhere in your strategy documentation will be an objective that states that you will succeed as an insurance company through ‘being innovative’. It may be presented up-front as a bold strategic theme or it may be hidden deep down in the depths of a key initiative. I’m also guessing that, for many of you, this objective may not necessarily be backed up by a statement of how you intend to achieve ‘being innovative’ or what ‘being innovative’ really means. So, what does it mean to be innovative in insurance? Interestingly, when you search for a definition of being ‘innovative’ in insurance using Google, you’ll get back over 24 million hits. For fun, you can also read some of the entries in our competition to define what innovation is for our industry in advance of our Innovation & Insight Day in Boston on 27th February (see our LinkedIn discussion group with circa 115 entries submitted so far). Finally, let’s not forget, that there is a whole industry of management self-help books out there online and in airport book shops (circa 39 thousand books listed in Amazon for innovation), plus academic research (639 thousand hits on Google Scholar for innovation and insurance) to help. With all of this information available, I guess it should be easy for all of us to know exactly what to do to be innovative and how to use innovation to be successful? Mmmh. In my experience of running workshops with clients, innovation is rarely a well-articulated or understood concept. In many instances, it is just another word for ‘new’, which rather than helping a firm to rally around a radical concept or idea, can underplay its significance. So, when things start to get confusing or complicated, I personally like to learn through doing or by observation. Over the holiday period, I finally got around to reading Walter Isaacson’s “Steve Jobs: A biography” (one of the many books you’ll find in or near the Management Section of your airport bookstore). Apart from the biographical elements about his personal life (many of which were eye opening to me) and his dysfunctional people management style (this is a slight understatement!), I found myself identifying some of the themes that made Steve Jobs and Apple innovative in my eyes. Here’s a quick round-up of my take-aways:
  • Adopting a heuristic approach. Learning by doing, taking risks, accepting mistakes (well, some of them at least) and following instinct. It would appear from the book that few product launches led by Jobs ever followed a formal plan or typical investment case procedure adopted by many corporates and that I'd recognise.
  • Maintaining a pure vision. Jobs insisted on perfection. New to the world products were frequently pulled back from their launch date in order to achieve the ‘insanely great’.
  • Separating out a small team. Albeit not always by design, Jobs sometimes found himself creating a team outside of the main corporate organisation. This had the effect of helping to focus minds as well as creating a distinct identity – even when this had the effect of creating a counter-culture to the parent firm.
  • Hiring the ‘A-team’. Jobs claimed that ‘A-team’ players want to work with ‘A-team’ players, and that ‘B-Team’ players would only drain energy away. Jobs was pretty ruthless in insisting on the best.
  • Creating a unique value network. Ratherthan making the best use of what’s out there already, Jobs frequently preferred to create a value network from scratch rather than compromise or find himself in a weak position of power.
Although often dysfunctional and extreme in the case of Steve Jobs and Apple, these observations are consistent with much of the formal management research on disruptive innovation and entrepreneurial success. Being innovative often requires a firm to break away from accepted industry norms and values in order to create something new. So, in an industry as old as insurance, are we ready to live up to our written strategies and ‘be innovative’? ______________________________________________________________________________________ Our competition for “Innovation in 6 words” is still open. To take part in the discussion, join our LinkedIn discussion group (Innovation is…) devoted to the topic. To participate in the challenge, e-mail your definition to Erica Ferguson at using the subject line “Innovation is” along with your contact information. We will be announcing the winning entries during our Innovation & Insight (I&I) Day on February 27, 2013. Regular readers of our blog know that I&I is a flagship Celent event. As always, it will host a variety of Celent and non-Celent speakers and will be a great opportunity to network with the industry peers. If you’d like to see the full agenda and learn more details, please visit our registration site.


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Asia-Pacific, EMEA, LATAM, North America