Kevin Smith State Farm Agency put on a small, intimate talk on how innovation can change the way business works during Chicago Ideas Week. Smith spoke about the importance of being quick to accept change, living a life of intentional choices, solving problems and clearly displaying results when trying to create an innovative company.
When Smith opened his office he wanted to change the way people thought about insurance. He quickly realized “to make an impact on an industry you must check your excuses at the door” and “if you are in a room where you feel comfortable you are in the wrong room.” It is this dedication to getting out of your comfort zone that helped him to create an agency nationally recognized for its unique office space, culture and involvement in spreading innovation.
Here are Smith’s tips for creating innovation inside a large company:
True innovation is choosing to be great at what you are doing
The best innovations are created while looking for a better way to accomplish your daily tasks and the most useful changes are the ones that further what you already do. Smith reminds us that our first job requirement is completing set goals; it is only then that we can innovate. “Innovation must come after you succeed in what you are required to do,” Smith said.
Figure out what you do best and evolve with it
Having an open mind about the process of your business is often more important than experience. Smith says that quickly adapting to change is a key driver of innovation. You can’t narrowly define what you do: using outdated technologies or focusing on only one thing will ultimately will hurt what you are trying to accomplish. Smith realizes that the insurance industry in changing quickly. To survive he says that State Farm need to shift their focus from just insuring cars to defining risk.
Look to other industries to grow your business
Learn from people outside of what you do can help drive change. “Bringing in ideas from new industries has evolved our business. Our best systems never came from insurance,” said Smith. Innovation starts when you identify why another business makes you feel a certain way and why you like this feeling. You must then identify how you can create the same feeling in your customers.
Identify problems; use evolved thinking to change them
Innovating means figuring out what the key problems in your industry are and changing them. A key problem for Smith was filling the gap between corporate and consumer. To solve this problem he set out to master customer experience. This meant creating a stronger connection with the consumer by better understanding their specific problems. These new understandings lead Smith to focus on relationship building: he began to show off specific tools, like the State Farm mobile app, instead of just handing out a brochure and sending the customer on their way.
When trying to innovative in a corporate environment you have to make sure they can’t say no. Smith learned that if you show results and give statistics to prove it works, people have to pay attention. He also found that once you succeed they will be more likely to listen in the future.
Understand the space and how the user is experiencing it
Today Smith uses social media and unique office culture to foster big business innovation but before Smith there were no State Farm agents were on Facebook. To demonstrate the positive results of social media Smith realized that you couldn’t just create content: you also needed to understand the space and how the user will experience it. This meant mastering Facebook’s Edge Rank Algorithm, interacting with customers and creating a “cool” brand that produced unique content.