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Fast Fast Forward

Finding your continuous innovation sweet spot

Finding Your Continuous Innovation Sweet Spot


A version of this article was first published on

Many organizations today place a big focus on continuous improvement. They have to. With the pace of change in industries across the board, there is always a new way to look at something or do something. At XL Catlin, it’s part of our core values as well as our individual performance goals. We all play a role in identifying new opportunities to make things better, faster, and more efficient. Continuous improvement is a team sport, and, here, we often hold competitions (across the globe!) to come up with better ways of doing things.

Continuous improvement is embedded in our organizational DNA. There is also a tremendous focus on innovation. Many insurers are investing lots in innovation initiatives.

But having deep pockets doesn’t quite mean that innovation is pervasive throughout the organization. A conversation that we’ve been having internally is how to globally engage our colleagues in the innovation process. At some of the larger insurance companies, innovation is a separate domain driven by technology, and innovation efforts are largely divorced from the day-to-day operations of the business. In the technology think-tank model, the innovation arms prototype ideas and pitch them back to their business and operations partners for implementation. The argument here is that innovation requires intense focus, and that true innovation comes from not being overly influenced by business-as-usual. While we leverage a similar model, we also believed in taking a much more democratic approach to innovation throughout the company by engaging all of our employees. You can come at innovation from multiple directions!

Maintaining our focus on continuous improvement is critical, so how can we begin to find our continuous innovation sweet spot? Here are some of the areas that we’re working on:

The first area is to clarify what we mean by the term innovation. Given the intense focus on insurtech and digital transformation, there’s a misconception that all innovation is technology-driven. Given that most of our employees aren’t technologists or programmers, they don’t see an obvious fit in how they can support innovation efforts under that definition.

The key is to think about innovation along a spectrum of capabilities that you’d like to enable as an organization, not necessarily the methods by which you would execute those capabilities (like technology). This could include innovation areas that cover product, distribution, service, and even personal development. The second is to provide high-level guardrails – simply the future-focused objectives important to our company to help guide employees. This helps ensure that we’re all working towards a common goal.




The key is to think about innovation along a spectrum of capabilities that you’d like to enable as an organization, not necessarily the methods by which you would execute those capabilities (like technology)."


Another point of clarification was that given our relentless efforts around continuous improvement, we had to do a better job at differentiating improvement versus innovation. The two constructs are not mutually exclusive, but it can get confusing for people. Our guidepost is to think of improvement as evolution (smaller, incremental change) and innovation as revolution (new or radical change).

We’re working toward the development of an innovation toolkit, a set of methods and practices, such as  design thinking, that teams can use to spark the innovation process. Innovation requires “outside-in” thinking, and it takes training and practice to move away from a traditional “inside-out” way of operating.

Finally, we need to generate more awareness: This is the communication and engagement strategy that encompasses the innovation program. We need to show people what innovation means to the organization and to them as individuals, helping employees identify how they can contribute to the innovation process. To date, we’ve had some good successes with an internal competitions (an “Innovation Cup”) and collaborative gatherings (“Work-Out” events which are like hackathons for non-tech people), and the launch of a pilot Design Thinking course. All great methods that can be used in the innovation idea generation process.

As we roll out more of these events and embedding innovation into our corporate DNA, we’ll have to tackle the next set of challenges: Given all of the innovation ideas that we hope to generate, how do we turn them from ideas to business strategy and into actionable projects? Stay tuned!

About the Author:
Rachel Alt-Simmons is Vice President, Program Enablement within the Strategic Analytics team at XL Catlin. In her role, she creates organizational and operational runway for the strategic use of enterprise analytics, as well as orchestrates solution design and business architecture within large scale programs. Rachel is also an adjunct professor at Boston University, where she teaches Agile Software Development & Strategic Design.

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