By CYRIL TUOHY, managing editor of Risk & Insurance®
Workers and managers in risk management who are responsible for new, workable ideas share some personality traits. Innovators tend to be "keen, enthusiastic and passionate" and are usually team oriented, said Joe Restoule, former president of the Risk and Insurance Management Society Inc. (RIMS) and leader of risk management at Nova Chemicals Corp.
"I've seen all sorts of personalities coming to the table and want to build something," Restoule said. "Typically, the best builders are those who work in teams, not as an individual."
Innovators often understand that they have to work with limited resources. They understand that their jobs don't always require them to lead, but that their jobs always demand that they facilitate the process of innovation, Restoule also said.
And, of course, innovators come in all shapes, ages and sizes, and from all ranks of the industry, "novices, middle management and visionaries," Restoule said.
Some have been in the industry for only a few years. Others have spent more than 30 years in the business, having run, bought and sold companies many times over.
Still others, like Lisa Ramthun, assistant vice president of risk management for St. Joseph Health System in Orange, Calif., have found ways to innovate while remaining on the administrative side of the business.
For more information on the breadth of personalities responsible for innovation in risk management and insurance, please read the winning profiles listed in our 2010 Risk InnovatorTMTMTM competition.
AGE BEFORE BEAUTY?
It's true that the industry's more senior ranks are likely to be involved in management and shaping perspective instead of generating new ways to grow the business. But it doesn't mean that senior managers can't be innovators.
"Innovators can come from all categories," said Gary Thompson, executive vice president and chief underwriting officer, commercial markets, at The Hartford Financial Services Group Inc. "It's not just an age, gender or experience issue."
While many of the most innovative workers tend to come from a minority of the employee population, it's "typically a mix" of young and more experienced people who are innovative, Thompson said.
"The youthful underwriter may say, 'Why not underwrite that risk?' " he said. "And that's good. Not all of them do, but many do."
The healthiest approach is for companies to encourage innovation from a mix of experienced and younger employees, and many insurance carriers across the country encourage their employees to contribute.
"Occasionally, there's a blue sky, white board exercise that comes up with a good idea, but typically it's the people who are living and breathing and doing it every day," Thompson also said.
Most of the ground-breaking innovation takes place among the entrepreneurial ranks of the industry, which these days tend to be centered around technology, said Maddy Bowling, principal of Maddy Bowling Consulting, who believes that overall the industry still isn't doing enough to innovate.
Not that the largest carriers aren't capable of innovation. In the consumer sphere, 3M and Apple are perfect examples of large companies that routinely innovate.
With so much data available to the industry, anyone who can sift through it in new ways or who can turn it into information on which to act are those who are moving the industry forward, according to Bowling, who specializes in the workers' comp sphere, one that's awash in data.
Bowling isn't alone in her assessment that the insurance industry isn't doing enough to innovate. The industry could spend more on research and development, agreed Restoule.
Foreign affairs commentator Fareed Zakaria goes further. A lack of innovation is affecting American industry in general, Zakaria argued in an article published last year titled "Is America Losing Its Mojo?"
Zakaria cited several reports that find America slipping in terms of its innovative edge--or rather that other countries are catching up.
Native-born Americans are earning fewer Nobel Prizes and Ph.D. degrees, and a gap is opening up between the educated and the uneducated--all signs that America as the innovation superpower is in danger of decline, Zakaria wrote.
In any event, the personality traits that foster innovation remain the same, whether innovations of the future come from Germany, India, China or the United States.
Workers and managers who remain team oriented, entrepreneurial, technology-savvy and closest to their customers can expect to innovate and lead the industry.
September 15, 2010
Copyright 2010© LRP Publications