Get Social, Look Forward to Innovate: Chubb Chief Innovation Officer Bidwell

May 21, 2015

Like any property/casualty insurer, Chubb Insurance faces the challenge to refresh its business with new ideas. But unlike a lot of its peers, the Warren, N.J.-based carrier has a chief innovation officer coordinating the effort.

Does that mean Chubb has someone who is charged with spotting the next big thing?

Not really. In fact, the man in the role, Jon Bidwell, describes that activity as being just one part of the job when asked to describe it in 140 characters or less.

Carrier Management Editor Mark Hollmer interviewed Bidwell during a live Twitter chat in late April, eliciting the tweeted response above to the question of what exactly a chief innovation officer does. Explaining each part of his response in successive tweets, Bidwell tweeted first on the importance of providing framework and context for innovation. “Ideas without it are just ideas,” he wrote.

As to the part of the job most people would guess at—seeing over the horizon—Bidwell tweeted: “Very important function is to see what may be important two or three years out…Think IoT, mobility, and yes wearables.”

And addressing the “poking” part of the job, Bidwell tweeted: “Sometimes we get so focused on here and now [that we] don’t look up to see what’s coming down [the] tracks.”

Jon Bidwell, Chief Innovation Officer, Chubb
Jon Bidwell, Chief Innovation Officer, Chubb

“Learn not to fall in love with ideas at an early stage. You’ll get divorced a lot. Many fail; have to deal with it.”
While Bidwell wasn’t asked to elaborate on what Chubb might be planning in response to the growth of the Internet of Things, mobility or wearables, the social media platform did allow for a lively exchange about the role of a chief innovation officer, with questions coming not just from Hollmer but also from viewers who joined in at #cmchubbchat. Those who simply sat back and read the rapid-fire questions and Bidwell’s amiable, on-target responses probably got a bit of a taste of how innovation happens at Chubb—on an internal Web-based social platform.

Bidwell listed “wiring the firm” with the Web-based collaboration platform as one of his biggest accomplishments to date. The platform allows all employees to submit—and build on—ideas for new products, services and operational efficiencies in dealing with customers and distributors, Bidwell once explained in an article about innovation published on Chubb’s website. (“Innovation is Key: How Chubb engaged all of its employees to generate 1,500 new product ideas,” published in Best‘s Review, October 2009.)

“Often innovation is managed at biz unit level. OK but sometimes gets too focused on incremental product-based efforts,” he tweeted during the Carrier Management event, again explaining the importance of widening the scope of the innovation efforts in an open environment and the need to complement the idea exchange with a deliberate process for vetting and funding the best ones.

Bidwell’s tweets referred specifically to “analytics around ideas,” visualization and mapping tools, small-group idea-scoring, and “seed funding for proofs of concept” as he elaborated on the “process and framework” for innovation at Chubb. “We use [a] venture fund for early stage ideas that need experimentation. Find the unknowns then can decide to invest bigger.”

Asked specifically about how Chubb prioritizes ideas for further development, Bidwell tweeted, “Use tool that combines conjoint analysis, visualization, mapping. Eval done by groups of SMEs. Usually around 12”

In a follow-up email exchange with Carrier Management, Bidwell explained the tweet first explaining that SME is shorthand for subject matter expert. Describing Chubb’s “highly segmented” approach to the commercial market, he said that Chubb has a wealth of individuals with expertise on particular underwriting, claims or loss engineering niches.

When scoring ideas, “it is important for each innovation project to match up the idea portfolio with a cross-functional team that contains individuals with deep expertise to run the evaluations. In ideal situations you have the evaluations done by those with expertise from underwriting, claims, loss engineering, marketing, IT, general counsel etc.”

That typically means involving about a dozen folks to get sufficient coverage across the disciplines.

“The analysis is actually called “pairwise”—a derivative of conjoint, but it involves comparing two ideas against each other and preferencing which is stronger across up to five parameters,” Bidwell said, explaining that the five criteria might include factors like revenue potential, speed to market, cost/complexity, underwriting margins, or regulatory complexity. “Generally we create these criteria unique to each effort to best reflect the business goals of each project,” he said.

Related articles:

More Innovation Insights from Chubb’s Bidwell,” for tweets related to technology and innovation obstacles.

Read Any Good Books on Innovation? P/C Leaders Share Their Favorites, for more reading recommendations from industry executives.

Inside the Minds of Insurance Innovators,” a multipart series of articles featuring the answers to 11 questions about innovation processes from 16 P/C industry leaders.

Other highlights of the Twitter chat included Bidwell’s tweets on technology, obstacles to innovation in the P/C industry and even a short list of the innovation leader’s favorite reading material. (Tech news via Flipboard, Wired, trade pubs, and VC data via Pitchbook.)

Asked about the qualities of a good chief innovation officer, Bidwell tweeted: “Deal well with ambiguity, curious, networked; able to ‘Belichick’ and see unseen talent,” referring to the ability of Bill Belichick, coach of the National Football League’s New England Patriots, to find talent that other coaches overlook.

Wrapping up the event, Bidwell offered a concluding piece of advice to the Twitter audience. “Learn not to fall in love with ideas at an early stage. You’ll get divorced a lot,” he said.

“Many fail; have to deal with it,” he tweeted.