Where do you get your best ideas? While many may hope that the office or meeting rooms are where innovation blooms, reality unfolds differently. Whether it's in the shower, on a walk, or while driving, creativity tends to strike when people are engaged in activities that allow them the mental space to drift and think.
At the executive level, there's an expectation for company employees to be creative on-demand. However, this expectation is articulated without any guidance or tools. Duncan Wardle, the former Head of Innovation and Creativity at Disney, noticed that this gap between expectation and reality is apparent in every industry. Whereas lawyers go to law school, IT teams learn how to code, and sales teams get sales training – a vast majority of employees are expected to be innovative at work but are not equipped with the tools they need to do so.
At Elevate, Equisoft's customer appreciation event, Duncan delivered a keynote address titled, Delivering Customer Experience Magic. Throughout his session, Duncan drew on inspiration from his tenure at Disney and the principles that propelled the company to its status as one of the leading customer engagement companies globally, to offer a fresh perspective on creating a culture of curiosity and diversity. His insights can be adopted by life insurers to help improve the life insurance customer experience and inspire out-of-the-box solutions for reaching Gen Z. He outlined various tools that executives can leverage to nurture innovation and creativity within their teams.
Simple, Powerful, and Fun Tools for Overcoming Barriers to Innovation and Creativity #
Have you ever experienced the frustration of investing hours hunting for a creative solution, only to feel as though you're running in circles? Conversely, have you been amazed at how effortlessly others seem to arrive at resolutions? This phenomenon is a testament to being trapped in one's "river of thinking”- - personal expertise and experience that narrow perspective.
True innovation, Duncan argues, is stifled by the river of thinking. The more entrenched individuals are in their role or industry, the easier it becomes to make quick, but potentially uninformed decisions.
To illustrate this point, Duncan posed a provocative question:
"In a post-pandemic, AI, climate change, generation Z world, do you really expect to be successful thinking the way you have thought for the past 20 years?"
Emphasizing diversity as a pivotal driver of innovation, Duncan highlighted how unconventional perspectives can pave the way for groundbreaking solutions. To overcome barriers to innovation and creativity, Duncan introduced tools tailored for executives aiming to encourage a culture of innovation and creativity. These tools, he stressed, were designed to adhere to three guiding principles: They’re simple, powerful, and fun.
By incorporating these tools and strategies, life insurance executives can pave the way for transformative changes in their organizations and better meet the evolving needs of their clients.
Finding the right balance between expansive and reductive perspectives #
Encouraging a balance between boundless creativity and structured approaches can lead to groundbreaking ideas without stifling innovation. This is an important strategy to keep in mind as you explore the tools listed below.
The “What If” Tool #
The “What If” tool operates as a catalyst for breaking away from traditional thinking patterns. The essence lies in asking audacious "what if" questions, a process reminiscent of the imagination and creativity that comes naturally to children.’
This tool metaphorically allows you to break the rules of the life insurance industry, without actually breaking them, to get past all the rules enforced by the regulators.
The Naïve Expert #
This tool requires introducing someone who is not necessarily from the industry or line of business in your brainstorming sessions. The Naïve Expert exemplifies the transformative potential of diversity in innovation.
The Naïve Expert isn't there to solve challenges but to pose the seemingly silly questions that individuals might shy away from in a traditional setting or throw out audacious ideas untouched by executives’ river of thinking.
Duncan offered a simple way of infusing leadership meetings with fresh perspectives: executives can invite young rising star employees immersed in technologies like ChatGPT and VR to bring fresh insights and challenge the experts in the room.
2 tools in particular resonated with Elevate event theme which was about the power of integrations and connect. These tools can help executives unlock creativity and break down barriers to innovation.
Asking, how else? #
The “How Else” tool is about reframing your perspective to allow for diversity in your thinking process. The key lies in the art of re-expression—altering the way challenges are framed to allow a different way of thinking.
Consider this: How can you shift your industry and product perspective to resonate more with Generation Z? It's about breaking free from legacy molds to connect with a generation that perceives and engages with the world differently than you do.
According to recent LIMRA statistics, Gen Z represents 39 million Americans between the ages of 18 and 26, and their perspectives on life insurance differ substantially from previous generations. As they enter an age where traditionally financial protection products have taken precedence, their unique perceptions and beliefs prevent them from recognizing the immediate value of life insurance.
The data reveals an interesting insight of this on-demand generation—50% express interest in life insurance products offering guaranteed income in retirement, 25% seek offerings with wellness programs and incentives, and 24% are attracted to policies bundled with mortgage coverage (24%) or property and casualty (28%).
Tthese statistics show that Gen Z is interested in how they can benefit now from owning life insurance. For example, 50% of survey respondents claim that they would be in interested in a life insurance product that provides guaranteed income in retirement, 25% claim that they are interested in a product that provides wellness programs and incentives, and 28% would be interested in the policy were bundled with a P&C policy, 24% with a mortgage.
For life insurance companies, the solution to closing that generational gap lies in reframing your business to align with Generation Z's values. How can your mission align with helping individuals fulfill their purpose and build their dreams?
Asking “how else?” is a tool that allows you to challenge the status quo by questioning your identity as an insurance company. Can you reframe your thinking from being solely a life insurer to an insurer helping meet unmet needs? Can you position yourself not just in the insurance industry but as a player in the experience industry, actively contributing to shaping and enhancing people's life journeys?
Whatever you do, have fun with it. #
Playfulness is a catalyst for creativity, but it only thrives when individuals are free to explore beyond the boundaries presented by the usual day-to-day work setting. To harness the power of playfulness, foster an environment that nurtures creative thinking.
Since the best ideas often occur outside the workplace, Duncan suggests encouraging briefings that require creative thinking in advance. This intentional delay between the question (the kick-off) and answer (the brainstorming meeting) provides the space for minds to wander, for individuals to fall asleep, have a refreshing shower, or embark on a thought-stirring walk—the activities everyone in the audience independently identified as the ones that lead to great ideas.
Despite the apparent difference between the worlds of Disney and life insurance, Duncan’s exclusive session with Equisoft customers revealed a shared essence.
During his session, Duncan shared an anecdote of a 2.5-hour lunch shared by Disney executives. Leveraging the tools discussed above, these executives collaborated to conceive characters and develop stories for iconic films such as Wall-e, Finding Nemo, Cars, Monsters Inc., and Toy Story—all rooted in a nostalgic exploration of their childhoods, and all in one sitting! This anecdote serves as a reminder that armed with the right tools, industries that seem worlds apart can discover common threads and ignite transformative creativity.
At the executive level, there's a strong requirement for employees to champion. Yet a considerable gap remains, stemming from the absence of accompanying guidance and tools. Equipped with these tools and strategies, life insurance executives can lead the way towards transformative change and encourage innovation in the life insurance industry, ensuring it evolves to meet the dynamic needs of clients and effectively serves the next generation of life insurance customers.