Our business today is faced with dozens of drivers of change — potential drivers of innovation. Handled properly, these drivers result in progress. Handled poorly, they bring failure or even collapse. They are, for most of us, day-to-day distractions and points of confusion. They all add up to information overload. Consider these factors:

  • Technology: Big data; legacy systems; mobile tech; social media; exchanges, benefit administration and enrollment technology; wearable tech; biotech, longevity tech, and diagnostic tech.

  • Regulation: Federa l— including PPACA, Medicare, Social Security and HIPAA; and state—including tightening of product approvals, extraterritorial mandates, marketing and sales compliance regulations.

  • Distribution: Broker consolidation; Zenefits; disruptive distribution via Amazon, Google, retail stores.

  • Generational and social diversity: Four generations in the workplace.

  • Our customer relationships: Voluntary benefits are "why do I need this?" products, not "I've got to have it" products like medical benefits.

How do we cope with all this information? Let's consider ideas for handling all this data and using it to build a competitive advantage.

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Innovation can be accomplished via trial and error — think of Edison famously discovering thousands of ways to fail before he got a light bulb to work. Or innovation can come from a "eureka!" moment — think of Einstein riding his bicycle through the Alps doing thought experiments that resulted in considering light to be both a particle and a wave and the theory of relativity. So there is no one correct way to get innovation started. You can burn out hundreds of filaments or ride your bike and dream. Be a tinker or a thinker.

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We constantly work to build a culture of innovation. Set high standards for innovative thinking and foster it at every turn. Characteristics of a culture that encourages innovation include a basis in trust across the team, openness to ideas, empowerment of every team member, freedom to disagree or even to fail without reprisal, and an understanding of what innovation is—something that improves our relationship with customers and makes it more durable.

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