Innovation: Listening, Learning, Leading
There are times when a word or a concept needs a second look through a different lens. This is the case for the word innovation.
At a high level, innovation seems to mean new ideas that will propel a concept or a product or an industry forward. That may suit the business pundit or the boardroom discussion, but what that definition holds in concept, it loses in practice. Innovation, at its core is much harder work and much more filled with intention and purpose than the ethereal concept. Innovation is only as good as its result and its results are hard to come by without a foundation and framework. That’s why the best “innovation” stories are often laced with inspirational lessons of learning, failure, collaboration, frustration, epiphanies and celebrations. Real innovation is exciting because it’s dramatic. Real innovation takes hard work and obsessive observation.
At Majesco, we have the privilege of co-laboring with innovative clients, innovative partners and innovative internal teams. We cherish the hard work of innovation and its collaborative benefits. One of Majesco’s innovation leaders, Manish Shah, President and Chief Product Officer, was recently interviewed as a part of the Silicon Valley Insurance Accelerator’s Innovation Trailblazer series. SVIA Interviewer, Natalie Wood, asked Manish some timely questions surrounding today’s need for innovation. Manish’s answers were highly instructive and inspirational. They also gave outsiders a window into what makes Majesco’s culture of innovation uniquely different and supremely effective. For today’s blog, we picked a handful of Manish’s insights to share with readers. You can access the full interview here.
Listening as a Part of Innovation
Where does innovation begin? Natalie’s questions for Manish started a thread that carried throughout the whole interview — that innovation, at its foundation, is about listening and understanding. She asked Manish about the influences upon him that brought him to the point of integrating technology and creating innovative products for insurance. Manish responded with the idea that he learned early on…that listening and observation were more crucial than funding and resources.
“When I started out as a technologist, I had opportunities to work in various different industries. I learned about the biggest nuances of different industries, but at the same time saw the commonalities between them. So, when I jumped into insurance, I was fortunate enough to get an opportunity to play roles which didn’t just put me into a style of technology or a business, but essentially were about driving an interim value chain, which requires understanding the customer problems, and then finding more insightful solutions. We learned some really great life lessons.”
- “Investment or lack of investment for that matter does not necessarily have to be an inhibitor, in terms coming up with breakthrough innovations. I think that’s great for startups to hear.”
- “We need to be very close to the business and listen to our customers. That’s the discipline in how we see innovation. Listen to what the customers are saying and the problems they are facing, then have a very perceptive and agile approach by not coming up with a multimillion-dollar project, but rather building a smaller capability.”
- “Turn observations into opportunities. It’s frankly not something where you go in the boardroom or Geek-lab and think about it. Look at how the world operates. Find and notice some opportunities and then try them out on a smaller scale to see if they work or not.”
Who are we listening to?
First, Manish pointed out that it’s important to not only listen to the customer and what they are wanting, but to ask ourselves why they are asking for something new and why are they asking for it right now? A great example was the advent of the portal that launched what we now call digital transformation.
“We found,” said Manish, “through our own thought-leadership and research that something big was on the horizon. Customers are now trying to compare the insurance industry with other businesses they are interacting with online. But we shouldn’t just be asking what customers are doing, but we should be even more loudly following where leaders like Amazon, Apple and Netflix are going to see how they are going to shape customer behavior, which is ultimately going to be trickling down to insurance. We follow the leading indicators that will help us influence the innovation road map in a much more proactive manner.”
Of course, listening to clients is also crucial, and as Manish points out, it is a consistent part of Majesco culture.
“We’re a thirty-year-old company. We have had several mergers and acquisitions. But the one thing I have noticed in Majesco culture, which I think everyone would claim, and I’m telling you this with the purest intent, it is very very very customer-focused. One small whisper from a customer sounds like a big shout all the way to the executive suite.”
We hear customers significantly. I think that is in our culture and heritage. You see this in how we’ve transformed from a services company to a cloud company. We aren’t complacent. As we hear from customers we try to dig deeper and try to understand the underlying reasons behind what the customers are saying and then improve on it.
Manish used cloud as an example of both observational listening (looking for the signs ahead) and customer listening (meeting needs ahead of time) that leads to business innovation.
“At Majesco, we had an early start with the cloud before it was known as cloud. From our perspective, cloud was way more than hosting. It is a true driver to provide the agility and speed to the business and also give an opportunity to operate within larger ecosystems, which otherwise would be very difficult because of integration challenges.
It’s not enough to take an on-premise solution and then just deploy and throw bodies at it to manage it. You have to re-engineer an architecture application to take true advantage of the cloud, so that it can be combined with third parties and it can be operated at a lower cost of operations, and the speed and agility to deploy new capabilities can be achieved.
Learning as an Innovative Mindset
Learning is close to listening. It’s the point at which observation becomes knowledge. But there is a mindset that can get in the way of learning. It is a lack of humility, a refusal to acknowledge that everyone comes to the innovation table with bias, and a mistaken premise that any idea can be launched solely on the basis of the idea and the company where it originated. Innovation, according to Manish, needs collaboration, partnership, humility and the learning that can come from opening up to great ideas.
“Majesco has two characteristics that make us a very good competitor.
- We have a startup-kind of mentality. We provide our people the enablement and empowerment to innovate, experiment, try their ideas and then scale them if they work out.
- We also believe the we cannot innovate alone. We foster an open, very insightful partner relationship culture. We value the startups and other partners who are larger and smaller. Size isn’t a factor here. How do we embrace our partners and bring them into our Innovation strategy?”
What does this mean for startups?
Great ideas need the fuel of exposure. Often a startup has a great component — a technology and process that deserves to be a part of the insurance process. How does the innovative idea become useful to insurers? Majesco learned quickly that ecosystem innovation would enable individual innovations to thrive.
“Some startup partners have a solution that is powerful but unfortunately it’s not actionable by itself,” said Manish. “It needs to be embedded in the simplest manner as possible with the measure and business functions that are common to insurers. This is where we came up with the concept of Eco-Exchange. Our Eco-Exchange platform provides our partners with capability so that they can bring their services into the eco-exchange — a plug-and-play service hub. Our customers have the ability to consume the services without writing any code.
“This is huge. When you are building an underwriting process, or if you’re doing claims processing, or a triage of claims, or if you’re doing a payment, we are able to enrich your solutions by using those partner communities. On the flip side, it offers a big channel to our partners who wish to come into the insurance space. Our customers are benefitting, and we can truthfully quote our mission, that we are stronger together with our partners than just by ourselves.”
Leading Toward a Common Purpose
Leading is where you turn listening and understanding into aligned engagement within innovative teams. The unfortunate thing about innovation is that is suffers from a lack of purposeful focus. The leader, at any level, attaches purpose to the work of innovation.
It begins with “the problem.”
“First and foremost,” said Manish, “you have to understand the problem. You can’t just say that you understand the problem, but you even have to understand why there is a problem so that you can find a purpose.
“If you’re leading a team, you have to recognize that a team cannot be led and cannot be engaged unless is has a purpose. The purpose will come if you understand the problem and if you can articulate it. Once you can articulate your purpose, get your team. It is then important to get them attached — not to technology, not to a solution, not to a business, not to a revenue — these are all important things. But what they will need is a larger purpose. Why are we doing this? How is it going to create an impact?”
“It’s easier said than done, but that is the job of the leader and you’ve got to do it.”
COVID-19’s Continued Impact Upon Insurance
From the corporate perspective, leadership and planning has certainly been affected by COVID-19. Natalie questioned Manish about what impact COVID-19 has had upon insurance. Manish had some thoughts about how uncertainty is driving digital transformation.
“I think COVID-19 has affected everyone by saying, ‘Let’s make sure nobody knows what is going to happen tomorrow.’ That brings some humility in terms of everyone’s 3, 4 and 5-year strategic plans. I think on a more technical basis, (the industry) was on the road to digital transformation, but at a different pace. We were dealing with “supposed to be” timelines.
“Right now, though, the ROI on the digital transformation has shot up in light of COVID-19. Insurance is such an integral part of our society. Having an ability to serve our customer is just absolutely non-negotiable under any circumstances. What we are seeing is that many companies are putting digital transformation onto the front burner. Some insurer systems weren’t designed with unusual cases in mind. It begged the question of IT systems, “How firm is your foundation? Is your cloud strong enough? How flexible and adaptable are our software products? Certainly, it brought forward some of the dimensions we always thought were important, but they were not on the front and center, and now I believe that focus has changed.”
For a deeper look at the innovation mindset and even more practical advice on how to build a foundation for innovation, be sure to watch the SVIA Insurance Innovator Spotlight. To get a glimpse of Majesco’s innovative tools for digital transformation in insurance, request a demo or learn more about Majesco’s cloud-based insurance platforms.