August 2018

Innovation Insights

By Eric Sondergeld

We started to distribute a monthly email with an innovation tip to support the Entrepreneurial & Innovation Section’s mission—to promote entrepreneurial activities and foster the innovative spirit of section members. While most of the concepts apply across industries and disciplines, we will make them relevant to our industry and to actuaries, where appropriate. We’d love to hear what you think or if you have ideas for future tips. In case you missed the first three tips, here they are.


The sad irony of being an expert at an established company is that it keeps you from seeing possibilities. After all, you know what works, what doesn't, what you can afford, what's been tried in the past, and you are extremely unlikely to follow a new or different approach. If you've been working in an industry for more than six months, you are "in the jar." The nice thing about being an entrepreneur is that you usually don't have this problem. So instead of relying on your own expertise—which is typically nonexistent—you can go looking for experts solving similar challenges to the ones you are facing and search for technology that could allow you to take shortcuts.

Adapted from "Entrepreneurs Vs. Market Leaders: Three Strategies Entrepreneurs Use To Win," by Mike Maddock, CEO, Maddock Douglas, Inc.


When teaching "Innovation Advantage," a LIMRA executive development program, Claude Legrand, author of “Innovative Intelligence—The Art and Practice of Leading Sustainable Innovation in Your Organization,” focuses on problem-solving techniques. These include what to do when finding oneself "stuck" when trying to come up with ideas for solutions. He suggests thinking about the worst solution to a problem. Not the best. Not the most creative. The absolute worst. Not only can this exercise be fun, but participants also realize how many new, great ideas they could come up with just by identifying all the worst things they could do. In a recent class, the problem was "how to get seniors to use an ATM more often" ... and the bad ideas came flooding out—almost too easily. Participants suggested things like playing rap or heavy metal music at the ATM, using the smallest possible font size, or having the ATM only open between midnight and 3 am. All things that would not play well with seniors. But after chuckling over the absurdity of these bad solutions, they realized that by taking the opposite of each one, they easily had all sorts of new ideas and solutions to the problem. So, if you find yourself struggling with this, spend a moment thinking about the worst solutions, then flip them around and ... voila! You'll have yourself all sorts of new ideas.


What really is innovation? It’s about doing something different. Or putting existing things together in a new way to create a new service, product or concept. Innovation most likely won’t fit into existing structures or classifications. That’s the point. But when something doesn’t fit neatly in the box society has already created, it’s easy for others to criticize the concept or not see its value and potential. In other words, innovators and entrepreneurs are likely to hear the word “NO.” A lot. The point is, innovation and entrepreneurship are not easy. If they were, we would all be doing them. It takes creativity, determination and a little dose of guts to keep pushing through all of those potential “no’s.” As Babe Ruth once said, "It's hard to beat a person who never gives up.”

Eric Sondergeld is corporate vice president and director at LIMRA, leading the Technology Research and Developmental and Strategic Research teams. He can be contacted at .