How Anthem Thinks About Innovation Structures & Timeframes

By Scott Kirsner |  October 2, 2017

Some of the most-photographed slides at any of our in-person events were shown by David Crean, head of the Anthem Innovation Studio in Atlanta. Anthem is an $85 billion provider of health insurance, with about 37,000 employees, and we were visiting them as part of our Atlanta Field Study in April. Practically everyone in the room pulled out a smartphone to snap a pic.

Crean’s slides laid out the way he views the different innovation options, or “flavors of innovation,” that a company might pursue — from a cultural initiative to a venture fund to a spin-out company. Each one has different levels of risk, different funding requirements, and different potential outcomes.

Crean, who will be among the speakers at our Teach-In gathering this October, was generous enough to share the two slides with InnoLead members, and explain how he uses them.

Crean explains: Many times, people around the organization — especially senior leaders — have their own opinions about what “innovation” is. It is very hard for an innovation function to be successful if the ones judging it are all evaluating it differently.

For example….
  • A CIO might believe that it is all about experimentation with emerging technologies (Tech R&D) and ask, “What are we doing with artificial intelligence or blockchain?”
  • A CSO might believe that it is all about engaging start-up vendors for partnerships and pilots (Vendor Partnerships) and ask, “Our competitor just bought an XYZ start-up; what are we doing?”
  • A CAO or Head of HR might believe that it is all about creating a culture of innovation (Culture) or design thinking (Workshops) and ask, “How many ideas were generated, how many associates have submitted an idea?”
  • A CEO might believe that it is all about a showcase for customers and investors (Briefing Center) and ask, “How many customers have visited? Is our Innovation Center better than our competitors’?”
  • A COO might believe that it is all about more rapidly getting ideas/solutions to market (Accelerator) and ask, “How many initiatives have made it to market?” and “How much faster is this than the traditional way?”
  • A CFO might believe that it is all about investing in startup companies (Ventures) and ask, “What investments are we making?” and “How are they performing?”

He continues:

    Additionally, many times, people around the organization — again, especially senior leaders — are expecting highly-disruptive or transformational innovation, but are both risk-averse and unwilling to invest at the level necessary for disruption. This can be particularly obvious when the funding model and level is understood. If the funding is coming from operational budgets, the innovation will be incremental and have near-term ROI expectations (perhaps Culture, Workshops, Accelerator). If the budget is coming from the top, and is more sizable, the innovation can be more disruptive and have a longer-term ROI (Tech R&D, Vendors, Incubation, Ventures.) Discussing the second of these two slides can help people think about the choices of what to do, and the necessary investment levels and staffing.

These two slides are also available in PowerPoint form in our Resource Center, along with more than 100 other downloadable documents.