- Creating an Innovative Mindset in I.T.
By Chipp Norcross & Joe Gammal
Recently, we had the unique and special opportunity to present at the CIO Executive Summit in Seattle alongside Kirsten Simonitsch, CIO of Premera Blue Cross. In Kirsten’s presentation, “Driving Customer Engagement Through Innovation”, she detailed her experience of leading her team to find a deep and meaningful understanding of what people want from health insurance companies, and how they have used that knowledge to invent successful new tools and apps such as Juice and Proof. More revealing, however, was the candor in which she described the journey she has lead within her 500 person IT organization to create a new, innovative mindset.
She illuminated a common misperception that it requires a particular type of person to be “innovative”, and that they are the people who wear cool clothes, sit around in beanbags and eat Skittles all day. If that was the case, what could those of us who are non-Skittle-eaters ever hope to achieve? Were we fated to a life of executing the cool ideas that the Skittle-eaters come up with? Or was there an opportunity for everyone to become more innovative thinkers, and more successful at creating the breakthroughs they need?
In her story, Kirsten found inspiration in the Synectics model of “Cycling Worlds”. Within the concept there is an important “Operational World”, in which we execute, focus on P&Ls, and deliver to timelines. There is also an “Innovation World” in which we create new solutions, think differently, and dream up new ways of doing things. While we all have the capability to work in both worlds, it’s impossible for us to be in both at the same time. Our minds don’t allow us to be both speculative and critical at the same moment. We can, however, go back and forth between these two “worlds” rather quickly, and that was Kirsten’s epiphany.
Kirsten knew she had an organization that excelled at “operational excellence”. What she wanted was “innovation excellence” as well. She wanted to create a balance of innovative thinking inside her IT organization, and the discipline to know when and how to use each of these two very different modes of thought. With so much focus and training put into the “Operational World” in our society, such a change would require a concerted effort with a focus on building new skills and a new, collaborative culture modeled by Kirsten herself. So that’s exactly what she did.
Over the last two years we have had the pleasure of working with Kirsten and her team to help them build this vision and turn it into a reality. With almost 400 members of her organization trained in Synectics and a growing cadre of facilitators and trainers within IT, there are truly amazing things happening at Premera. Not only are exciting new products being developed, but Associate engagement has increased dramatically and a new, collaborative spirit has taken root. None of this would’ve happened without Kirsten’s courageous leadership and that is why we were so proud to share the stage with her.
Kirsten’s presentation was the highest rated at the conference by the other CIOs in attendance. It was a pleasure to see that her colleagues thought as highly of what she has accomplished as we do. As members of Synecticsworld, it’s always rewarding to see a client recognized for the hard work and courageous leadership they have shown, and this conference was the perfect forum for Kirsten to share her story.