In Edgar Allen Poe’s classic detective story “The Purloined Letter,” the Paris police scour a blackmailer’s apartment for a letter they are certain is hidden there. They use microscopes, the latest technology in 1844. They drive long needles through the upholstery and even look behind the wallpaper. Despite numerous searches, they fail to find the letter.

Executive Summary

P/C insurers with good intentions to improve operational efficiency often glom onto costly high-risk strategies like new technology and outsourcing. The Lab's William Heitman advises that better strategies involve eliminating wasteful, avoidable work tasks to begin with, putting together meaningful org charts and looking at the activities of all knowledge workers—not just those doing repetitive tasks.

Desperate, the police call upon Poe’s master amateur detective, C. Auguste Dupin, who pays a visit to the blackmailer—and promptly returns with the letter in hand. It was out in the open, but cleverly disguised and easily dismissed as insignificant by the police. The blackmailer had turned the letter inside out, folded it into a makeshift envelope and hidden it in plain sight—in a letter rack hanging on the wall—right under the noses of the officers.

Today, as insurance executives scour their companies for new ways to boost productivity, their searches often resemble those of the Paris police. They look harder and more frequently, only to find fewer and more costly opportunities. Their improvement teams cover the same ground with repetitive searches, only to round up the usual suspects: new technology, centralization, outsourcing or product changes—costly, long-term, high-risk strategies.

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