There were many insights at a recent Innovation Forum held at ACORD's London offices. One that I want to pick out is how the insurance industry often benefits from R&D, piloting, and proof of concept projects carried out by other industries – notably finance. Insurance organizations can succeed as “fast followers”, exploiting the investments and learning of those with the stomach to be at the bleeding edge.
I want to say this doesn't make insurance any less creative. Insurers didn't invent paper, ink, or telephones, and I don't think they should feel bad about that. NASA didn't invent seats, but they still put them in their vehicles.
Insurers are investing in blockchain technology, using a by-product of digital currency developments to create distributed ledgers with the potential to change the way our business gets done. This is a different use of the technology than in currencies. It's closer to the utilization of blockchain for complex financial instruments, but it's not a duplication. Insurance players still need to invent a pile of new stuff to make blockchain useful in the industry – and to make it pay.
Reuse is innovation. Taking something from one context, recognizing its potential application in another field, and making that translation work – these are absolutely elements of innovation. Every organization and every industry benefits from the accumulated invention, labor, and experience of the entire human race, through all its generations. There are no clean sheets, no green fields.
I want to reserve the term “fast follower” for people who take an existing idea and do it better than the pioneers. How about we call the people who spot the potential for shifting an idea into a new realm the “agile adapters”?