Don’t fear the squiggly line: Continuing Nationwide’s innovation journey

By Scott Sanchez, Chief Innovation Officer

Defining innovation

How do you define innovation?

It’s one of those words that is used so frequently, it can mean everything and nothing. At Nationwide, we define innovation as “delighting people by solving their needs in ways they can’t even imagine.”

I like this definition because it highlights the customer-focus that has been in our DNA since we opened our doors in 1926. At that time, we were a disruptor to the insurance industry and our innovative approach helped us meet the unique needs of a previously neglected group – farmers.

We’ve continued to innovate over the last 90 years, and we’re placing an even heavier strategic focus on innovation today based on quickly evolving consumer needs and technology.

In a recent LinkedIn post, Terrance Williams, chief marketing officer and president, Emerging Businesses talked about how Nationwide’s heritage gives us a solid foundation to build upon as we work to inject an “innovation mindset” into our existing “risk management” culture – and he acknowledges there will be challenges along the way.

Overcoming common barriers

I recently sat down with George Kembel, to talk about some of the common barriers to innovation in large organizations like Nationwide and how we can overcome them.

George and I go back a long time, and in addition to being my friend and mentor, he is co-founder of the Stanford d.school. A short sidebar on George, he prefers big goals to small ones and his current mission as managing partner of DGLOBAL.ORG is to unlock the creative potential of every person on the planet. No pressure!

As George says, the real barriers to innovation are often our own biases and assumptions that get in the way of unlocking the creativity of ourselves and our teams.

Innovation isn’t a straight line

George’s insight speaks to one of our focus areas at Nationwide, which is helping associates understand that innovation isn’t a straight line from point “A” to point “B.” It’s a journey that starts out as a squiggly line and can take many twists and turns before finally straightening out as we learn about the right problems and needs to solve and the right way to solve them. We need to embrace the squiggly line and not fear it – trusting that our customer-focus will lead us down the right path.

In other words, we need to overcome our bias for avoiding risk and get more comfortable failing early in the process as we’re prototyping. The best innovation work occurs when those early failures produce critical opportunities to learn and shape the right, final solution.

No one wants to fail. In fact, I really dislike the word failure and the phrase “fail fast.” The key is to focus on the learnings, so “fail fast, learn quickly.” Getting leaders and teams to understand this mindset and apply it to their daily jobs will be critical to our success.

By building on our heritage and applying the right innovation mindset to our work, we’ll ensure Nationwide will be there to serve its members for the next 100 years and beyond. I couldn’t be more excited for the journey ahead!