Fostering a culture of innovation in insurance

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They don’t measure success by money. They don’t accept the status quo. They are a rare blend of confidence and humility. And they are an indispensable part of every successful company.

They’re intrapreneurs.

In an era when technology is outpacing most businesses, companies need skilled, passionate forward thinkers. Unfazed by failure, intrapreneurs not only challenge convention, but they also look for ways to elevate the company they work for by turning ideas into profitable innovations.

“It’s better to beg for forgiveness than to ask for permission” is a phrase that’s misused in many corporate settings. However, at AmTrust Innovation, our intrapreneurs often apply this belief to challenge the norm. Taking this step makes it possible to achieve our desired outcome and create new opportunities to reach customers through new distribution channels.
From buzzword to business advantage

Intrapreneurship was first coined by Gifford Pinchot III and his wife, Elizabeth, in 1978 while attending the Tarrytown School for Entrepreneurs in New York. Like entrepreneurs, these risk-takers possess conviction, passion and drive. While an entrepreneur works to build something on his own, an intrapreneur operates within an existing organization and is motivated to move the company forward. Oftentimes, intrapreneurs work for a large organization, perhaps a large insurance company, enabling them to make a significant business impact.

Intrapreneurship is mostly about conceiving an idea and playing it out in thought. Proactive by nature, intrapreneurs seek feedback about their ideas and are willing to listen to what their contemporaries have to say. Intrapreneurs take their ideas and try to overlay them on the existing organization of their business to create new products and distribution models. Once an idea has morphed into a plan, the focus quickly shifts to putting the plan into action.

For a company to address and nurture new and innovative ways of doing things, intrapreneurs must not only recognize potential barriers, but also address how to break them down. It’s because of this cultural challenge that many startups, separately run incubators and nontraditional players succeed faster and with greater results.

Rare finds

Intrapreneurs, like four-leaf clovers, aren’t easy to find. When an employer discovers one within its organization, it should support, even empower, this individual, rather than squashing or derailing his or her ideas. Let’s look at some of an intrapreneur’s core attributes:

  • Self-belief – Intrapreneurs have to believe in themselves before they can win over the support of their colleagues, team leaders and upper management. In other words, confidence begets confidence.
  • Fearlessness – These forward thinkers refuse to allow fear to slow their momentum. Not being afraid to speak up and stand by what you believe in is an absolute must for moving forward.
  • Drive – In his blog, The Pinchot Perspective, Pinchot writes that intrapreneurs are “dreamers that do.”
  • Inventiveness – Along with conviction, passion and drive, innovation is in every intrapreneur’s DNA. It’s a key driver of not only change, but also advancement.

Fostering a culture of innovation

To be truly innovative, a company must be willing to venture outside its comfort zone. Here are a few organizational best practices that will empower intrapreneurs, while positioning their companies for future success:

  • Blasting away barriers. Many things can challenge a great idea, from dealing with protracted red tape to seeking buy-in and the ultimate green light from upper management. Together, these obstacles prevent a budding intrapreneur from taking a risk or challenging the norm. By removing these barriers, a culture of innovation will provide the ideal environment for these individuals to flourish.
  • Speaking of barriers, there are trigger statements every intrapreneur should learn to recognize. The best way to combat them – the kind dripping with doubt – is to simply ask “Why?” and then begin working on ways to refute them. Here are some examples: “We’ve never done it this way before.” “We don’t have the resources.” “This will fail.” “The system can’t do that.” “That will cost too much.” Statements like these shouldn’t be deal-breakers, but rather indicators that disrupting the norm could have a positive effect and accelerate growth in your company.
  • Rallying behind risk-takers. Fear of failure is an anti-innovation trait we must remove from the physiology of our budding innovators in the insurance industry. One should fail often in order to find a solution to a problem. Or, in the case of insurance, take risks – an approach that isn’t aligned with most disciplined actuaries. Intuition and gut feel should inform a decision or action. It’s best to fail fast and often to learn. Then correct the fault; adjust the offer; and test again.
  • Promoting collaboration and cohesion. While providing protection within an innovation unit is a solid practice, we must avoid housing our innovation people in a separate unit. This practice will almost definitely foster a “them versus us” mentality. True and real innovation only comes from inclusion across the entire company. Every employee should be encouraged to participate in innovation, not just a select few.

Intrapreneurs are everywhere, and some of their innovations have touched millions of people – perhaps even you. The intrapreneurs in the insurance industry are likely to be responsible for the next products that will transform and improve risk protection for businesses and individuals.

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