It’s planning season. And around here, real planning begins by imagining what is possible rather than focusing on the incremental. Earning the leading market share in your category is possible; squeaking out a couple points of growth is incremental. But achieving what is possible often requires us to do things better, smarter and differently. In other words, it requires innovation.
I was thrilled when I recently met Stephen Shapiro, author of “Best Practices Are Stupid: 40 Ways to Out-Innovate the Competition.” What resonated with me was Steve’s view that expertise is the enemy of creativity. The theory is simple: The more familiarity you have with a particular topic, the less likely you are to create a breakthrough in innovation because your brain is pre-programmed by your knowledge and experiences to find familiar solutions. If we ask the right questions, more often than not we’ll find that smart companies in other disciplines have answered them. Some examples:
How can we create an insurance-shopping experience that people enjoy and tell their friends about? Instead of studying the direct writer with the latest online shopping gizmo, look at Trunk Club—a firm that targets a demographic that, typically, despises the traditional notion of shopping for clothing: men.
Trunk Club reinvented the shopping experience for men. First, they assign a personal stylist to every client. Second, they create personalized experiences without ever meeting most of their clients in person. After a phone consultation, the stylist sends an elegantly packed (and easily returnable) “trunk” of hand-selected clothes and a personal handwritten note. These messages, along with professional follow-up e-mails, humanize the experience, contribute to high revenue per transaction and stimulate word of mouth. Imagine what is possible if we were to find such unexpected ways to reinvent the shopping experience for our own clients.
How can my agency attract new customers and stand out in the community? BMW is tackling a similar question, seeking to redesign dealerships by “decluttering the showroom” over the next several years. The concept is simple—replace cliché cubicles and high-pressure conference rooms with a bright, open space featuring interactive high-definition touchscreens and employees assisting customers on tablets. Yup, just like an Apple store.
How can we become an employer of choice for bright young talent? You don’t need a search engine to know that Google has earned that status. Sure, the company’s exceptional perks, which include organic meals, investment in employee training and education and wellness centers, play a role. Also important is the culture that Google has created. Almost all “Googlers” say the company has great leadership that welcomes innovative suggestions from employees, and it doesn’t hurt that leadership encourages employees to spend up to 20% of their time pursuing an innovation or other interest of their choice. Imagine if your workplace stimulated so much passion and creativity.
There are many more challenges and opportunities facing our industry that already have been addressed in one way or another by a different discipline. Whether these relate to the underwriter seeking new, more efficient ways to properly assess risk; the independent agent who obsesses over differentiating herself from the direct writer down the street; or the claims adjuster who desires to fulfill the company’s contractual obligations while addressing the client’s emotional needs, the answers may be found in a purposeful tangent. What better time to find one than planning season?