A CEO’s Insights

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Innovative Thinking About Innovation

Innovation is essential for business success – and one of the most challenging imperatives for any CEO. Here are three articles from the past year that got me thinking differently about the topic.

  • In search of innovation: Hunting for the right kind of white space. Taddy Hall describes the need to pivot from “the white space in the market to the white space in people’s lives.” Some innovations have failed because they responded to a perceived market opening but not to human behaviors. Witness the Amazon Fire: What behaviors indicated that anyone wanted a 3D phone that helped them shop? Hall suggests looking for “the hacks, compensating behaviors, frustrations and unfulfilled aspirations that clutter personal and professional lives” and innovating around those. For example, Spotify responded to the friction of having to purchase individual music tracks on iTunes by creating a subscription model. Simple and successful (though it did take them 13 years to turn a profit). In my company, we hunt for the right kind of white space through human-centered design. As we map the journeys of our agents, policyholders and injured workers, we find many of those “compensating behaviors and frustrations” Hall describes. Then we target interventions to eliminate those friction points. The resulting changes aren’t always disruptive leaps. But even a small improvement can be innovative when it surprises your customer with a transformative experience.
  • Understanding the future through the eyes of a child: 29 insane predictions and why it matters. The nugget for me on this list is the notion that the workforce of tomorrow needs to be “distraction-proof.” That hits home for all of us, who after years of email, texts and social media messages have attention spans that have devolved to those of gnats. We all know the value that emerges when we have the rare luxury of focusing. Unfortunately, as author Thomas Frey points out, “Training someone to have extreme focus, with the ability to block out all bright shiny objects, is not only a tall order; it’s also a topic that virtually no one is teaching.” How can you create an environment in your company that is, at least occasionally, distraction-proof? And what can you achieve when you do? We did a version of this at Pinnacol two years ago when we sent some of our brightest minds to an offsite innovation lab to develop a mobile-first online platform for workers’ comp insurance. Because they didn’t have to juggle other projects or even be on our email system, they could concentrate on delivering one single product. And they did so: three months ahead of schedule, they launched our award-winning, industry-leading Cake Insure.
  • Finally, here’s one that may seem counter-intuitive: Innovation should be a top priority for boards. So why isn't it? Have you ever stopped to think that a dearth of innovation expertise on your board might be holding your company back? The authors surveyed more than 5,000 board members of companies around the world and found that understanding the technological and innovation challenges companies face was way down on their lists, as was the amount of time they spent discussing such issues. Companies are more likely to seek out board members with industry, strategy and financial expertise than with tech or innovation backgrounds. But what if we all had directors who could use their own experience as disruptors to help us think about how to effectively transform our businesses? The creative spark doesn’t have to come from the C-suite or the production floor – it can come from the boardroom, too.


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About Phil Kalin

Phil Kalin joined Pinnacol Assurance as CEO in 2013. He has served as the chief executive of both public and privately-backed companies, including large hospital systems, as well as organizations focused on health care data, technology and education. He has been active nationally on health care topics related to insurance, data analytics, technology innovation, cost improvement and risk mitigation. Phil is providing an informed opinion on what we see in the Monthly Economic Indicators.

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About Pinnacol

Pinnacol Assurance is the Metro Denver EDC's Research Sponsor. Pinnacol is Colorado’s leading provider of workers’ compensation insurance. Pinnacol provides comprehensive, competitively priced coverage; immediate attention to claims; a highly qualified network of medical providers; and proactive safety programs to more than 55,000 Colorado businesses. Annually, Pinnacol supports nearly $500 million of Colorado’s economic activity, spends over 35,000 hours keeping Colorado worksites safe and provides compassionate care to over 40,000 Coloradans injured on the job.

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