We’ve spent the last few months revealing a new way of thinking about our businesses, creating a new perception of reality. It makes sense to pause for a moment to think about our goal. 

When your firm is doing well, it’s hard to think about the way you are conducting business as anything but successful. In fact, there is an entire industry designed to help us congratulate ourselves and settle comfortably into our success. From lists of top brokers to lists of highest revenue per employee to lists of customer satisfaction, we can always find a way to pat ourselves on the back. Don’t get me wrong—you should celebrate your success. For about a minute. Then it’s time to get back to work.

Why? Think about some of the most successful companies. Apple appears on every list of the world’s most valuable companies, but it doesn’t spend a lot of time talking about its accomplishments or celebrating past successes. The game at the top is a game of constant re-invention. This mindset is required because waiting in the wings are other organizations that are working hard to find ways to clean your clock.

So our goal is to think about the world not as leaders of successful agencies, but as hungry entrepreneurs. That’s an important distinction, because these two types of businesspeople think about the world in entirely different ways.

As the leader of a successful agency, you are enveloped in a security blanket of activity, revenue, customers and reputation. To create additional success, you must think about and work around your banked success. Need an example? At The Council’s last Chief Information Officer Working Group meeting, one of our members asked the question: Given a blank slate and a budget to completely redesign your agency’s technology architecture, who would end up with the same systems that you have in place now? The answer: nobody. 

When pushed for an explanation, the CIOs said managing the current book of business in the same way is required because the servicing teams are accustomed to the processes they’ve put in place. While the current methods may be inefficient, the business is far too valuable to risk any sort of change.

Houston, we have a problem—a huge problem. In a people-centric model, doubling the book of business would require doubling the staff. Not exactly a scalable model.

So let’s think about the blanket analogy. Blankets are great on a winter night. They take away the bite of the cold air and help us relax. But in business, relaxing isn’t a feeling that any of us should seek. In fact, when you sense a feeling of relaxation in your business you might want to consider the value of the cold air you’re avoiding. Cold air is uncomfortable. It requires movement, activity and thought. Think about the most successful businesses in history. How many of them are constantly moving?

So how does a hungry entrepreneur think about creating success? Before we explore the thought processes, let’s think first about the environmental factors that motivate disrupters to disrupt. Let’s focus on the hunger.

As humans, we operate in an entirely different manner when we’re hungry. We’re talking about hunger to identify and solve problems, hunger to succeed in making a mark on the world, hunger to displace successful institutions whose success is derived solely by their position in a market.

This is the type of hunger that should keep us up at night, not just from a position of fear but as a motivator. When was the last time you awoke at 2 a.m. and stared at the ceiling from the sheer excitement of a project that is destined to not only change your agency but perhaps the entire industry? If you haven’t felt this lately, it’s time to get out into the cold because I guarantee you there are entrepreneurs looking to disrupt our industry who had this experience last night.

So the motivation is derived from passion and hunger. But what is the mindset we are looking to discover in disrupters and create in ourselves? It’s actually pretty simple: identify deficiencies caused by the muscle memory of established firms; identify solutions that take full advantage of modern tools; and execute without concern for established beliefs.

Let’s break it down.

  • Identifying deficiencies can spawn hundreds of different trajectories. It doesn’t take long in a room of account executives to find examples. Stacking service teams with varying specializations behind producers who service the producer’s book instead of specialized books guarantees that some of your insureds’ policies will not be managed by the person with the highest level of specialized expertise in your agency. That’s a deficiency. Managing a property list in Excel that doesn’t link directly to the carrier requires multiple data entry points to make a simple change to a policy. Perhaps the client requires specific reports that are easier to manage in Excel. In either case, this is an inefficient way to operate.
  • Identifying solutions is thought of as the mystical place where the magic happens. Soon after the launch of Healthcare.gov, when it became apparent there were serious issues, Sen. John McCain famously remarked that President Obama should “send Air Force One out to Silicon Valley, load it up with smart people, bring them back to Washington and fix this problem.” I’ll let you in on a little secret. The “smart people” aren’t any smarter than you or I. They just aren’t constrained by the dependencies of successful agencies. It’s much easier to develop creative solutions when you let go of the fear of change.
  • The last point is all about executing without fear. If you’ve done your homework and identified an effective solution that eliminates deficiencies (and inefficiencies) using elegantly simple creative solutions, then just do it. Carry forth on your plans without fear of the disruption and change that you will create. Disruption and change is the goal. Agency growth is the result.

Keep this in mind: If we disrupt ourselves, the outside disrupters won’t stand a chance. They thrive on the confusion and chaos created in the wake of unmanaged change. If we learn to seek out and operate comfortably in this environment, would-be disrupters will find themselves facing overwhelming competition with no discernable advantage to exploit. This is why we are working to shift our perception of reality. This is our goal. Your level is now set. Next month we’ll talk about business process. Stay tuned.