My First Property Innovation Summit

This was my first Property Innovation Summit – Enservio’s annual event that brings together the best and brightest minds in the insurance industry. I started this post thinking I would summarize some key innovation themes from the day’s events. The speakers were all so compelling, however, that I couldn’t resist pulling a few nuggets from each presentation:

-Enservio’s CEO, Jon McNeill, kicked off the morning by reiterating why we’ve held the summit for seven years running and why Boston is such a deserving location for this year’s event. Home to two major universities, the Greater Boston community has helped spawn the invention of the spreadsheet, radar, microwave oven, internet, email, among other technology advances.

-Harvard icon, Rosabeth Moss Kanter, was next. Eschewing slides, Professor Kanter talked about the role of innovation as “helping to build an environment where ordinary people can thrive and be empowered to succeed.” Drawing on the recent Boston bombings as an example, she pointed to the “ordinary citizen” in Watertown who helped finally capture the remaining terrorist by calling in his observations on his backyard boat vs. leveraging complex technology. She also advised that “integration around the customer” is a big opportunity. “We always love innovation in retrospect,” she noted – “after it’s worked, but it’s typically ‘messy’ and not packaged into a standard org. chart.”

-Next up, Dr. Jeff Norris, Supervisor of the Planning Software Systems Section at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, dazzled with a combination of storytelling and cool augmented reality effects to talk about his experiences managing software development for mission-critical space launches, including the Spirit, Opportunity Mars rovers, and the Cassini Saturn Orbiter. Everyone talks about “simplicity,” he noted in recounting how NASA landed (pun intended) on the design of the Apollo Lunar Module but cautioned that you need “simplicity that actually works.” He went on to describe “risk” as not something to be avoided at NASA but rather as a “cost” to be considered. A completely “risk averse” solution guarantees failure to launch. Failure is a part of all great entrepreneurial resumes. A key question to address is not “how can I build this” but “how can I avoid building this.” The latter view helps attract good partners. Dr. Norris concluded his talk with mention of “Conway’s Law” – that your organization’s products or services ultimately reflect the structure of the organization.”

Gordon Jones is a self-described “intrapreneur” who runs the Harvard University Innovation Lab – essentially an incubator for new product ideas and university-based entrepreneurship to ensure that students don’t end up leaving the university, à la Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, to create their dreams. I-lab is an “IP-free zone,” meaning that anything created there is not subject to any royalty or fee. “We’d rather have the student write us a check for $50 million AFTER he’s created a commercial success rather than take 6% upfront on something that may still be in its infancy,” clarified Jones. While Jones talked about success factors in launching new ventures, he devoted a portion of his talk to “combating fratricide” which he defined as those internal forces that can block the very success an organization was trying to build in the first place. Communicating proactively and “disarming stakeholders” were potential strategies he’s leveraged to get past ego and greed.

Holly Tachovsky is CEO of a company that gathers building permit data and then delivers it in consumable nuggets to the insurance carriers. Her high-energy presentation centered on the roof risk problem – something that jumped out from her reams of data. Some key points – there are lots of “old roofs” in the US, replacement is getting more and more expensive and a roof that is 15+years is 22 times more likely to have problems. Yikes!

-The day concluded with Mark Johnson, former member of the 1980 US Olympic “Miracle on Ice” hockey team. And, yes I remember where I was and how exciting watching that game was — definitely more than just a hockey game. Mark talked about the infamous game as well as his own experiences as both a player and coach and the importance of passion and commitment in building winning teams.

And, while I said I couldn’t possibly try to distill all these great presentations down to a common theme, there was one common thread emphasized over and over – “make everyone a hero,” “share successes,” and “don’t worry about the credit.” As they say, great minds think alike. I can’t wait for Day 2.