28 June 2017, text and photos: David Torcasso
Helvetia has launched an in-house incubator to drive innovation. Its mission: to develop and advance new business models, start-ups and innovations. The insurance group hopes this will open up new sources of revenue over the medium term. To develop the business models, Helvetia is counting on its most valuable resource: its employees. That is why Helvetia Corporate Incubation is organising think tanks where interested employees can participate in developing new business models.
One of these workshops was held only a few days ago. Not at the head office, though, but at a special co-working space in St. Gallen. Here, several rooms are filled with flip charts, whiteboards, pens and stand-up desks – and plenty of post-it notes. This year, Corporate Incubation wants to know: “What will life insurance be like in the future?”
Around 20 employees travelled from across Switzerland to attend the one-day workshop. Ideas don’t just emerge out of the blue. Hence the decision to use design thinking. This innovation approach is wildly popular at companies. It focuses on the user’s needs and quickly produces concrete prototypes.
After a brief round of introductions, the first tasks were assigned. Only one hour later, the whiteboards were plastered with post-it notes. “This is an informal, playful method that produces new ideas faster than any drawn-out meeting”, said Sven Heid from the Helvetia sales team in Rheinfelden. During the workshop, Heid was part of a quartet that sometimes worked in focused silence and at other times engaged in lively discussion with the rest of the group. And even though some of the Helvetia employees had never met before, their interactions were heartfelt, constructive and trusting.
Isa Dora de Maddalena, who works for Helvetia in strategic staff planning in Basel, is no stranger to innovation. Before joining Helvetia, she worked at a think tank in Biel. She is convinced that “the more diverse a team is, the more ideas it will generate”. The workshop also drew on interviews that workshop participants conducted with family and friends about the future of life insurance. Participants conducted these interviews to prepare for the workshop. “In design thinking, you put yourself in the role of the user. What will enrich the user’s life, what will make it easier? That’s the big question”, explains innovation manager Mathew Chittazhathu of Helvetia Corporate Incubation, who guided the participants through the process along with his colleagues, Anja Zimmermann and Nadine Hergovits.
In the afternoon, it became clear what tomorrow’s life insurance needs to be: easier, more transparent and more flexible in its application – just what a digitised, personalised society needs. “I definitely want to integrate today’s new insights and approaches into my day-to-day work”, said Marco Lauper from the sales team in Bern. Some ideas have already been given a great name and a practical plan. Chittazhathu from Corporate Incubation promised, “We will continue to develop the best suggestions and present at least one idea to Group management.”
Innovative ideas usually don’t emerge from analytical thinking but from trying, experiencing and applying something new. Design thinking is an innovation method that delivers problem-solving results from the customer’s perspective. It is based on rapid experiments with prototypes. To be successful, design thinking requires a heterogeneous, well-functioning team that can work creatively in suitable facilities with appropriate materials.