Blog Q&A - Stirring the Pot: Disruption Deconstructed



For the third year in a row, CI&T is bringing together a day of interactive panels, networking & fun at SXSW. Come hear experts from the world’s leading brands on how they scale innovation to drive competitive differentiation.
As we approach SXSW, we will be sharing perspectives on innovation from our speakers so you can get a sneak peek into our panels.
In our upcoming panel, “Stirring the Pot: Disruption Deconstructed” Peter Chiang, Vice President, Global Digital Strategy and Transformation at MetLife, Saskia Steinacker, Global Head Digital Transformation at Bayer, and Tobin McDaniel, Senior Vice President, Digital Advice & Innovation at Charles Schwab will share their personal stories on what has and hasn’t worked when developing innovation initiatives, business models that are best suited for innovation and how to drive cultural change to adapt. 

In what ways have you tried to stimulate innovation within the enterprise, and what has worked the best?

At MetLife, we’ve been fortunate in that the organization as a whole has been hungry for more innovation for many years now. The challenge we faced was defining tangibly what innovation meant to our different business areas and regions, and the types of positive impacts “Digital Transformation” could deliver.  Essentially, deciphering “what’s myth and what’s real”.  To tackle this – our team carefully defined, framed and prioritized Digital Transformation/“Foundry” programs across key areas of MetLife’s business and functions. For each program, we, along with the business/functional leaders, jointly aligned on ambitious mission statements to tackle a “billion dollar” business opportunity. Delivering the full mission would require 3-5 years to deliver in its entirety but would also have logical, incremental “quick-wins” that could show impact within 3-6 months.  Tackling the “billion-dollar” opportunity would require our teams to fully leverage the complete suite of our Innovation and Digital capabilities – from advanced data and analytics (including AI) to our innovation assets (e.g., MetLife Digital Ventures, Techstars Accelerator) to our automation and global customer platforms.  Balancing an ambitious vision with tangible, near-term wins has been critical to creating momentum around innovation and importantly, showing the organization what all the headlines and buzzwords could actually deliver. In addition, we’ve also laid out a comprehensive innovation ecosystem to continuously spur new thinking and to inject new ideas into MetLife. The ecosystem includes partnerships with over 17 leading VCs, universities such as MIT and Columbia. We also recently launched a Digital Accelerator in partnership with Techstars, along with a $100M venture fund set aside to co-invest in promising start-ups. MetLife’s journey is well underway and we are excited about the road ahead.
– Peter Chiang, Vice President, Global Digital Strategy and Transformation at MetLife

Innovation comes with the right mindset and skills. We foster cultural change and the digital transformation of our company by providing training programs, reverse mentoring and master classes on trending topics, for example artificial intelligence. Very successful are programs like “5x5” where 5 employees can spend 5 weeks to work on innovative topics outside of their daily routine. One team came up with an idea to develop a smart shelf solution to avoid stock-outs in pharmacies. We then provide sponsorship and funding to further develop such new business ideas. Moreover, every big company needs external inspiration. This is why we implemented the G4A collaborations where our people can co-create together with startups. For example, we are working with the startup Turbine ai regarding a bioinformatics prediction model to predict outcomes in cancer research with the help of AI.
– Saskia Steinacker, Global Head Digital Transformation at Bayer

Innovation at Schwab means looking at the world through our clients’ eyes to generate ideas that make investing easier and more accessible. This has long been part of our culture, but recently we’ve become more purposeful in our attempts to stimulate innovation. Our Digital Accelerator program consists of multiple tech hubs across the country where hundreds of employees focus on identifying and developing new solutions to improve client experiences. Our approach combines design-thinking and Agile, with cross-functional teams representing different parts of the client experience (service, product development, research and user experience) to rapidly generate, iterate and test new ideas. Successful solutions have the opportunity to be rolled out to Schwab’s broader client universe of individual investors, independent advisors and firms offering retirement plans.
Tobin McDaniel, Senior Vice President, Digital Advice & Innovation at Charles Schwab

Much is said about the "fail fast" mentality. How does that resonate with the current corporate culture?

We’ve adopted a fail/“learn-fast” mentality. At MetLife, we challenge ourselves to not only set ambitious objectives, but to also frame incremental “steps” that will enable us to “test and learn” new ideas rapidly along the way. Truly embedding this “learn-fast” culture in the organization is definitely contrary to most cultures, including legacy MetLife. As with many of these cultural challenges and shifts, we really needed top-down senior support. Our teams need to see our senior leaders supportive of testing previously untested ideas and concepts, and allow their teams to try things that may not pan out. As a great example of this, we recently launched our Digital Accelerator with Techstars. As part of our inaugural class of promising early-stage start-ups, we formally inked pilots with five and pursuing efforts with four others. The pilots span multiple business areas and regions, and is reflective of MetLife’s enterprise demand for innovation and appetite to try new things within the spirit of “learning fast”. Importantly, the rest of the organization also needs to see and experience this commitment that leaders across levels support a “test and learn” model. As such, things as trivial as embedding “winning stories” into everyday corporate communications can go a long way.
– Peter Chiang, Vice President, Global Digital Strategy and Transformation at MetLife

It’s still quite unusual for companies to actually embrace failure, but reflecting upon failure helps you get better. We need a culture that encourages employees to experiment without fearing failure. This is why we have established our fail forward award as a part of the digital innovation awards at Bayer. With this award, we put our digital heroes in the spotlight. Demonstrating passion and telling the story of digital via concrete examples is important to get people to join the movement. 
– Saskia Steinacker, Global Head Digital Transformation at Bayer
“Failing fast” can be a challenge for corporations that typically make large and thoroughly planned investments. We’ve found that failing fast can be encouraged and celebrated by introducing smaller ‘seed’ investments to test and learn when generating new ideas or testing new technologies. This is important as we are not just competing with other financial firms for consumers’ attention and loyalty – we’re also trying to meet the expectations set by any company that’s offering a great experience, including consumer and technology brands. To ensure our offerings continue to meet consumer needs, we constantly leverage data and insights to determine what truly works, which also enables us to move on quickly from what doesn’t.
– Tobin McDaniel, Senior Vice President, Digital Advice & Innovation at Charles Schwab

What can be done to unlock the intrapreneurial spirit of employees?

It’s all about making change and innovation exciting and relevant to all employees.  At MetLife, while we have many important efforts underway to transform our business—we’ve recently also rolled out different capabilities and assets to help embed the “intrapreneurial” spirit across all MetLife Associates. This includes the launch of our first-ever Digital University focused on offering accessible training on new, cutting-edge topics like Artificial Intelligence and Automation. Our innovation team also has greatly expanded our ability to lead regular innovation sessions around the world to tackle some of the most challenging business problems, along with new platforms to “crowdsource” innovative ideas from our Associates across all 44 countries MetLife operates in. Parallel to all this, we have accelerated efforts to socialize and communicate our transformation journey through a multitude of our internal communication channels—you cannot go through a week without seeing highlights from our Digital Transformation somewhere—either on our intranet homepage or on the screens in the hallways with videos of our Associates personifying the change. These are truly exciting times and everyone needs to feel it and believe they can contribute.
– Peter Chiang, Vice President, Global Digital Strategy and Transformation at MetLife

Offer your people the tools and skills they need to develop new ideas and give them the space to actually bring those ideas to life. I’m sure that the desire to innovate and make things better is inside all of us. It just needs to be triggered by an enabling and inspirational environment.
– Saskia Steinacker, Global Head Digital Transformation at Bayer

It’s critical to make sure that everyone on the team feels that they are making tangible contributions to the business. We recruit and blend team members from all different backgrounds, both within and outside of financial services, with a passion for improving the way people manage their money. Working in an environment of rapid ideation, testing, and customer feedback, team members are able to see their immediate impact, which fuels an innovative spirit.
– Tobin McDaniel, Senior Vice President, Digital Advice & Innovation at Charles Schwab

What lessons have you learned in unlocking innovation potential?

A couple of themes jump out:
• Focus on the Business Problems You’re Trying to Solve – vs. leading with a new technology (hammer looking for a nail)
• Think Big, but Show Quick Wins – recognize this is a journey
• Embed a “Learn Fast” Way of Working – allow associates to try new things and pivot
• Recognize You Don’t Know it All – definitely leverage the broader “innovation ecosystem” (e.g., start-ups)
– Peter Chiang, Vice President, Global Digital Strategy and Transformation at MetLife

Real innovation has to start with a focus on what is best for the end customer, not just with a great idea. When we launched our robo advice offering, for example, we were focused on how to lower the barrier to entry into investing and financial advice.  We were aiming to make it possible for more Americans to work toward their financial goals without being forced to make tradeoffs between cost and quality of advice and service. You can’t innovate for the sake of innovating – you have to be solving a real problem in a better way than others.
– Tobin McDaniel, Senior Vice President, Digital Advice & Innovation at Charles Schwab