“When people think of innovation, they tend to think of technology but actually it’s mindset and culture – that’s what drives real change.”
When introducing the showcase of cohort 2 of EDII’s ‘Digital Minds’ programme, Caroline Bedford, CEO of the education and development firm, emphasised the organic roots of innovation. Digital Minds delegates do not traditionally come from innovation backgrounds, she said, but rather are underwriters, brokers, adjusters, actuaries or marketers whose capacity for generating groundbreaking ideas was tapped into throughout the 10-month programme.
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The showcase saw a real range of ideas presented – from a chat about translating insurance acronyms, to an ESG newsletter assembling news and updates from the wider market. But despite the variety of ideas on display, each was connected by a clear thread – that innovation is a team sport and that it doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It’s a key message that EDII is looking to deliver, Bedford said, as the firm looks to develop and nurture the ‘insurance intrapreneur’ of the future.
Discussing the role of the intrapreneur, Paul Willoughby, a coaching director with EDII, highlighted that an intrapreneur is usually an employee working within a company on an innovation concept, whether it’s their own idea or something they’ve been asked to deliver.
“The idea really is to make the company better by increasing the organisation’s effectiveness or its competitiveness within the industry, but [it’s] generally motivated by a bit of freedom to innovate,” he said. “Intrapreneurs don’t really like to be locked down into sort of specialist roles. But being a specialist can help them because if it’s a subject matter that’s close to your heart, and you’re an expert, you can drive it forward.
“On the other hand, being a generalist in this position is normally a pretty good position to be in. [As an intrapreneur] you need to secure collaboration and buy-in internally. And you generally have to pitch your life away… You’re always pitching ideas, trying to get buy-in, and trying to get the energy levels up so you can shift the dial and move them forward.”
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Intrapreneurs thrive today, Willoughby said, but they’re only going to become more critical going forward because the leaders today have so much on their shoulders. As a market, insurance is facing its relevance being challenged - which means it needs to invest wherever it adds value. There are huge capital distribution pressures, with new entrants to the market all the time while the industry is also facing a significant talent crunch.
The responsibility for how a business is run tends to fall to the executive board, he said, but with so many new considerations impacting how a business, and indeed the wider market, is faring, do the c-suite have the capacity and skills to consider all these new factors as well? And is it solely their responsibility?
“Well, it’s not,” he said. “It’s you. Everybody within an organisation has a passion, everybody has an interest, everybody can take an idea, and they can move it forward. And actually, this is what the execs are looking for. They’re looking for you to do that. If they’re not, in my mind, they shouldn’t be the execs. They need to give you the space, to be able to organise your thoughts, to build up and test the desirability of your idea, and test your viability.”
No good executive will throw findings back in the face of an intrapreneur who has done their research, he said. For those looking to develop their intrapreneurial spirit, Willoughby highlighted that key characteristics define an intrapreneur – including curiosity, passion, motivation and resilience.
To be an intrapreneur, there are several critical questions you must ask and answer for yourself, he said, and the first is how far you are willing to push your ideas. And you can’t just be the person who’s always off doing the next shiny, new idea. There has to be real structure to your ideas and how you drive them forward. The ideas need to fit with your company and its defined business strategy.
“So, the second question. Can you do it alone?... I don’t think you can take one idea from start to finish alone,” he said. “Even entrepreneurs don’t do that - they use friends, family and knowledgeable communities. [And ask] ‘will it impact my day job, have I got the time to do it? What am I not going to be doing while I’m concentrating on this new idea?’”
Unless you’re fortunate enough to have your role as an intrapreneur become your day job, he said, for most people, this will have to at least start as a ‘side of the desk’ activity. Another thing for intrapreneurs to consider is how to request funding for an idea, particularly when a budget has already been approved elsewhere. Think about what the CFO will consider, what information will help them make the decision and what justification you can bring for a budget change.
“Show empathy to the people that you’re going to need to take with you on the journey,” he said. “And bring others on the journey. If you’ve got that skill set within your organisation, approach people – beg, borrow or steal their time… It helps shift the dial because you won’t have all the expertise you need to be able to move an idea from start to finish.
“[…] Above all else, make sure you’re enjoying it. It will get tough. People will shoot down your ideas, people will try to disrupt you. That’s jealousy in my mind, and it happens all the time. But if you have a good foundation and a good team behind you, then you’re on the journey so make sure you enjoy it.”