Chubb Global Innovation VP: ‘Stop The Innovation Carnival’

By Scott Kirsner |  April 8, 2014

At last week’s InnoLeads Forum in Boston, Chubb VP of Global Innovation Gerry Myers made a powerful plea: “Stop the innovation carnival.” At too many companies, employees are engaged with the innovation team only during sporadic “Innovation Days,” idea challenges, or off-site meetings.

“Corporate innovation today tends to be event- or challenge-based,” says Myers. “It’s episodic. There’s lot of hoopla on the front and back ends. It’s like a carnival that rolls into town each year. When it’s over, there’s the promise that ‘we’ll see you again next year.'”

So how do you weave innovation into the day-to-day work of thousands of people across different countries and business units?

Myers suggests that social technologies supply part of the answer — that employees need a digital environment that can capture high-value ideas from any employee, and promote the kind of knowledge-sharing and collaboration that often leads to new offerings.

New Jersey-based Chubb Group, a property and casualty insurance company, was founded in 1882. It has 120 offices in 26 countries, staffed by 10,200 employees. 2013 revenue was $13.6 billion.

“Social is evolving from Facebook and Instagram and Snapchat into the business context,” Myers says. (The company’s in-house CONNX innovation and collaboration platform is built atop software from Jive, which was deployed throughout Chubb in 2013.) “Many vendors will say, ‘A thousand points of light. Put it everywhere. But we got a limited number of use licenses [initially]. We went around to people and said, ‘How are you going to use this? How will you measure value?'”

A few of Myers’ slides are below. In his talk, he talked about “Big I” innovation and “little i” innovation. The difference? Big I is event-based innovation, company-wide initiatives, a high-level search for big problems and opportunities that may deliver longer-term return-on-investment. Little i is the “residual effect of conversation and collaboration,” which can often lead to innovative problem-solving, new ways of interacting with customers, or incremental improvements to a process or offering that can be rolled out quickly.”

Big I and little i are complementary and not competitive,” Myers says. And fostering “little i” innovation, he says, requires an “always-on social layer.” Myers says about 3,200 employees have signed up to be part of Chubb’s CONNX platform so far.

“Roughly one out of four ideas come from a planned, formal process,” Myers says. “Seventy-five percent are unplanned — they come from customers, suppliers, studying what competitors are doing.”

“Innovation is most often the net result of collaboration, sharing ideas and real-time problem solving,” Myers says, which is what CONNX is designed to support. Users have LinkedIn-style profiles on the site. They can be endorsed for various kinds of expertise, and they can also create “deal rooms” to talk about specific projects or work together in landing new business.

Myers reports to Chubb Chief Innovation Officer Jon Bidwell. The innovation team is four people, one of whom is an admin. “We have a decentralized, light-touch approach,” Myers says. “We’re all about enabling innovation — not owning it.”

Myers closed with a great quote about the need to deeply embed innovation in the culture — as opposed to relying on “innovation carnivals” to get people revved up once or twice a year. “Innovation happens where you work, not where you visit,” he says.