10% Innovators, 90% Renovators. Which Are You?

As seen on

Innovation doesn't follow current rules. Innovation makes new rules.

Innovation doesn’t follow current rules.
Innovation makes new rules.

This distinction was inspired by a blog post by SAP HANA, starting out with an observation that many managers just seem too busy to innovate. My observations are similar. While I have seen a significant uptick in the number of insurance leaders pursuing some kind of innovation effort in the last few years, the biggest complaint is bandwidth, not budget.

The story sounds like this: “We want to establish an innovation discipline at XYZ Insurance Company.” Then we say, “Great! We can help. Let’s schedule some time to cocreate the plan that will work for you.” Then they say, “Um, I don’t have time for that. Can you just send me a proposal so I can share it with my boss?”

It doesn’t work that way.

Innovation doesn’t follow current rules. Innovation makes new rules. Innovation and efficiency don’t belong in the same sentence either.

You can’t propose an innovation solution without spending a good deal of time contemplating the areas on which you want to focus, their alignment with your competencies, and the data and strategies needed to find new opportunities. Unfortunately, to the untrained eye, this work can show up as inefficiency.

Albert Einstein was famous for saying that if he was given an hour to solve a problem, he would spend 55 minutes on defining the problem and five minutes on solving it. Einstein was an innovator.

However, in typical corporations, the solution would be the starting point. The painstaking work of defining the problem would be seen as unnecessary or that it should have been delegated. In organizations focused on increasing productivity and reducing costs, this makes sense. But that isn’t innovation; it’s renovation. Not that there is anything wrong with that. It is a necessary part of business.

However, innovation is an imperative, too. And it is being squeezed out by the tyranny of the urgent, or worse, being paid lip service only.

So why the 10 percent? This comes from a study done by Ghoshal and Bruch that was featured in their book titled “A Bias for Action.” They did a 10-year study at several major corporations and noted that there were only 10 percent of leaders who knew how to lead from a place of purpose.

Purposeful leaders pick their areas of focus carefully. They are strong in their will and have solid boundaries and time management skills. They are very self-aware and, probably most important, they know how to reduce their own stress and refuel themselves. The other types of leaders don’t know how to manufacture the energy or the focus. Both are really important. In fact, they are critical to innovation.

In addition to these skills, I have noticed that the best innovation leaders have another Zen master skill that many do not distinguish or talk about.

They are not laboring over the moods and desires of their boss or other high-ranking individuals. Don’t get me wrong; they are not ignoring them or in any way disrespectful; however, they are confident enough in themselves and in their value that they do not spend a lot of time (or their team’s time) in pre-meetings, preparing for meetings, or in fire drills emanating from offhanded remarks or inquiries. They are also willing to have very direct and authentic conversations with superiors, which helps further focus and prioritize what’s most important.

They do labor over some issues, though…the ones that impact their customers. That’s what I call “kissing the right _$$”!

If you have been tasked to bring innovation into your company, yet you are spending your days in meetings about current business and your evenings cleaning up email, take heart. These skills of purposeful innovation leadership can be learned. Awareness is the first step. Desire to change is the second. The rest just gets easier and, frankly, is pretty fun.

Speaker Kits: videos and brochures