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Delve Talks featuring Ryan Rist, American Family Insurance

September 04, 2019

Delve Talks is a podcast that digs into the challenges around design, product development, leadership and innovation. Our first season focuses on what it takes to create a corporate culture that supports innovation.


Dave Franchino: Hi, thanks for joining us everybody. I'm your host Dave Franchino and joining me today. Our guest is Ryan Rist, the Director of Innovation at American Family Insurance. Ryan's got a really interesting position. He leads a team of innovative consultants who work within the larger American Family organization to help reimagine insurance, which is a really interesting challenge, which I'm sure we can get into that. In 2014 and 2015, Ryan managed the Microsoft and American Family home automation accelerator in Seattle and that incubated 10 really promising startups in home security, energy, water, and automation. So welcome Ryan. Thanks for coming in the show. We really appreciate it. Maybe a good way to start would be just to sort of tell me a little bit about yourself and your background, how you got into the field, and how it might impact some of your thoughts on innovation.

Ryan Rist: Sure. Well, thank you Dave. Thanks for having me. I'm a huge fan of yours and Design Concepts (now Delve). So happy to be here. My background … I stumbled into innovation and it all makes sense now, but it didn't make sense along the way. So, a little bit about me … I never knew what I wanted to be in life. I went from biochemistry to pre-med to veterinary to law to business and finally said I'm just going to go work in the real world and then figure it out. I’ve always been intellectually curious. It put my first computer together, took up photography later in life, then home brewing. My wife jokes I’m like a serial hobbyist and I can't do anything else because the attic is full of my crap that I’m not using anymore. My career started with Lucent Technologies. And I think there's a thread here about technology that I am a technophile and I am fascinated with technology. That was a good place to kind of cut my teeth. That was the height of the dot-com bubble. So, I got to see the absolute peak and the bust and then moved up to Madison where my wife is from. I got married and American Family has been my employer for the last 17 years. In the middle of that, I co-founded a startup that ended up getting acquired by marine electronics company. It was in the recreational fishing space. So, a lot of different things and about five years ago I was asked to take over the innovation team function and make some changes. I was sort of drafted into that role and kind of had a “oh, crap” moment. Why does this function exist? What should it be doing? What does a world-class team look like and how do we go build one? That's been what I've been obsessed about over the last five years.

Ryan Headshot web 03 e1467896389685
Ryan Rist, Director of Innovation, American Family Insurance

Dave Franchino: Fantastic. There’s a lot to unpack there, but you touch on a couple of things that I want to kind of dig into. One of the things you mentioned, that a natural tendency of yours or trait of yours is curiosity. I’m hoping you might be able to expand upon that and what your perspective is on people who are sort of naturally inquisitive and that role pertaining to people who tend to drive more for innovation.

Ryan Rist: Yeah, that has become a qualifier for joining our team. It's one of many things we look for -- people that have initiative, people that are frustrated with the pace of maybe a big company where it's hard to get things done. So, people that enjoy building things, seeing things get in the market and get over the finish line, people that are intellectually curious -- because that's what it's all about. The world's changing quickly, driven by technology. I'm not a full-stack engineer. I'm not a computer scientist. I am taking courses, so part of that intellectual curiosity, but you have to be you have to be curious enough to ask enough questions and dig in to figure out what the solution is because if you're sitting back today, and you say “Well, I'm not a technologist. I don't care about it,” you're going to be lost in business. You're not gonna be able to make the best decision, hire the right people. So, intellectual curiosity, yeah, it's like a core trait we look for now.

Dave Franchino: You said something that kind of caught my interest – you said people are frustrated a big company, but I challenge you that you perhaps run innovation at what's a big company. So, tell me a little bit about that. What’s it like trying to act like a small company within a big company?

Ryan Rist: Yeah, you know, my comment was more about … I sort of picture friends, myself and other jobs where you're asked to come in and do a set of tasks. And there's people that love that. There are people that thrive off of that. There are people that don't like ambiguity. It's scary. Yeah, and you need those people. Those people are amazing, and they make many businesses run, many parts of businesses. But the unknown and innovation, which is ultimately bringing something new that's better than what was there – that's my definition of it. To do that, it's hard. First of all, there's a lot of great products and services out there. So, you got to be better than what's out there. You got to understand the customer, which is the real world you're in. Which is what I have fell in love with five years ago, this idea of design thinking. This way to solve problems that's customer-centric. It is absolutely core to being successful in my opinion. 

So, I think that people who don’t do well on my team don't like ambiguity. They struggle with it and want even more direction and we don't have the luxury there because the world is changing so quickly that we got to go figure it out. We need in that intellectual curiosity and that passion and that desire to get things over the finish line that drives people. That’s why they self-select into that type of role and end up finding success. It's hard. The downside is that it's exhausting. I tell people it's super fun, but there are some days where I just want things to slow down and I'd like to work on just one thing, but that's the world of innovation today. It's fast. It's ever-changing. It’s relentless and it's exhausting, but it's also good for me, people like me. It’s fantastic.

Dave Franchino: Let’s dig into that a little bit more. I know that when I worked previously at General Motors, I had an opportunity to work in a front-end innovation group and prior to working in that group I had some preconceived notions of, oh, those are people that just get a chance to come play around with blue-sky ideation and it's got to be easy and fun. And then I got into it and realized how much hard work it was. What has been surprising to you and what has been interesting to you in terms of the role of running innovation at a large, complicated firm like American Family Insurance?

Ryan Rist: The whole thing is interesting. I think what's surprising to me is as I sort of dug into why does a company do this? Why does a company need an innovation team, an innovation function? And I would say that there's some small teams in some small companies that don't, right? If you're a startup that’s two years old, you don't even need an innovation function because what you are doing by nature is innovative, you're bringing something new to market. I think corporate innovation tends to be when you have a company that's been around a long time and has done things the same way a long time and it's also in industries where you haven't had to change very much. 

So, in technology, it's different. If you're, you know, if you’re Intel or Microsoft you've been doing this a long time, or you wouldn't be around – it is that is built into the DNA of the company. Microsoft was founded by a 20-year-old in his garage. He and that team in that group of people are okay with other 20-year-olds doing crazy stuff in their garage, right? That's not insurance. Insurance hasn't been that way. It's risk management. So, there's industries where this this shift to, “Oh, my gosh the world changing quickly. We have to change.” We need innovation function to help us be that catalyst. That's not just insurance. Many industries are waking up to find out that the market today is vast and competitive. It's technology-driven. It's all coming from startups. That's the source of disruption. So, they got to get their hands around it. So, you know for us that journey started with a lot of see what you described, which is sourcing ideas and playing with fun toys. Pretty quickly, we realized that that's not what people want us to be doing. And so, I have some theories on corporate innovation that I'd love to talk about. The road out there, right or wrong. Not espousing. It’s just I think that when you're in that situation as a big company, it needs to move quicker. Needs to bring more things, products and services, to market that people want. There's two parts to that equation. 

One is all cultural and is 100 percent about the people. Your leadership. Do your people feel empowered you have the resources to bring new things to market? Are you a top-down organization or bottom-up? It’s cultural. It’s people. It’s leadership. It’s tools. The other part of it is more about what we're doing now in our team, which is we're working very closely with our venture capital team, which invests in companies – startups that are already out there. Their group is now building things that we think – we’re trying to build a future, essentially. What is the future business that is going to be big for our organization? So, it isn't going to be in just insurance in the future. We're looking at risk management. We're looking at what customers think we should be doing and how we could possibly help them. So that's not typical corporate innovation. And I think what we've done is that first part of the cultural part, we started doing that early on and then realized that can't happen from the outside. It was totally ineffective. I can’t go tell some other group to change their culture so they could be more innovative.

And so, it ended up spawning a lot of other teams and ideas and projects where now we have an ecosystem. There's a whole team teaching everybody Lean Startup back at the company. It’s incredibly valuable for people to learn design thinking and Lean Startup, but we can't do that and understand blockchain and build machine learning in the cloud and new these new tools and technologies, too. You can’t do both. A lot of innovation teams try to do it all and I think they fail.

Dave Franchino: So, let's say tell me a little bit about, you know, what it's like to try to be innovative in the insurance world. What are the things that really impresses me, Ryan, with the things that you've done with your group is that it would it's a fairly conservative, tightly regulated industry. It's been fairly static or had been fairly static for a long time and yet if you peek over the horizon, there's clearly some dramatic storm clouds in terms of changes in the environment and I've been impressed at how you and your team an American family in general of taken that head-on. What does it taken for you to recognize that although you've got a good business in a mature industry that you're going to have to disrupt that in order to survive in the future?

Ryan Rist: Thanks for the kind words. I think we have a long way to go. So, you know a lot of what we've … yeah, insurance is really interesting if you think about it because it's all about predicting some uncertain future event. And there's a great book, “Prediction Machines” and a few other ones out there to talk about the impact that artificial intelligence will have on insurance which really artificial intelligence is going to impact everything. It already is – from the content that we get served up to the underpinnings of what's going to make an autonomous vehicle work. It's all over and it's not going to bypass insurance. It's going to hit it head-on and if you can predict – think about the extreme examples here – you can predict if your house is going to burn down or not, or you know exactly when you're going to die. You don't need life insurance. You plan for that moment. If you know that your house isn't going to burn down in the next 10 years with a high degree of certainty, you're probably not going to need insurance or whatever the case may be. So, the ability to be able to take all this data is now available to predict events is going to have a dramatic impact on insurance. 

So, I think in insurance carriers up in addition to things like with the autonomous vehicle, where what traditionally we thought about risk and therefore how we thought about buying insurance is going to change. I don't think that means that risk transfer goes away. I think risk transfer is going to be alive and well. I think we have to figure out where's it going to go. Is it going to go to commercial and auto has been moved to other places? It is certainly moving to where if you look at Millennials now, their laptop and their phone are the most important items that they will enter be insuring right? So, you see companies move into those spaces. So, I think yeah, it's going to change a lot and our approach has been to create optionality and to place bets.

So, you know, a way I think about it is I can't predict the future and I don't think any executive would raise their hand and say, “I can predict the future with certainty.” And so, your only alternative in is to place bets. Place enough small bets that you're covering the playing field and I think that's been our MO. Let's be action-oriented. Let's go do things instead of talk about them. One-hundred percent focus on action and let's place enough bets, and when you do that a really interesting thing happens. You do some dumb things that you learn from and some things that actually work out surprisingly and you learn and get better and that's really been our journey. It's one foot in front of the next, starting with AmFam Ventures getting out of the building and making a first investment, forming the innovation team – all of those moves open up more doors and create more moves for you.

Dave Franchino: You know, it's interesting. I think from the perspective of running an innovative organization, you've had a great perch from which to view the future and see the risks and necessary changes in your business. I'm positive there's somebody listening to this podcast that is probably naive or blind to the coming risks to their business. Anything you can think of to say to those individuals that might provide the kick in the pants necessary to recognize that there's a lot of disruption coming to a lot of industries that might not be expecting it?

Ryan Rist: Sure. I mean there's a lot of data points that get cited over and over again such as the shrinking lifespan of companies on the S&P 500. It used to be 50 or 60 years. If you go back far enough and how its approaching 12 to 10. So, the turnover of big established players, you don't have to look much further than what's going on at GE. It's not going away. It's not stopping. Adding scale is no longer enough, which is why we're here. I think because 50 years ago if you had scale, if you had distribution, you could just turn out products that people didn't like it wasn't a big deal. You had scale. You owned access to the market. And now anybody with a laptop and internet access has access to the market. And so, one data point, you know, is the shrinking tenure on the S&P. The other is the cost of a startup. Think back to when I started my career in the early 2000s – if you wanted to have an online e-commerce company you had to build the payment system, which was hundreds of thousands of dollars to build data processing, and now it's Stripe. It's Braintree. It's an API and that story isn't just with billing. It crosses all of these functions that you get out of the box to form a company and get something moving.

We look at the services in the cloud today, that spin up to an environment in the cloud and to utilize services. Everything is being turned into kind of a turnkey easy-to-use service. And so, if you think that the competition isn't heavy, you know, I don't know. I don't know what we can do for you. I see it across every industry. It's hard to say there’s industry that isn't seeing and feeling this anxiety around how fast the world's moving, how the incumbents are no longer guaranteed to win, how startups or are popping up right and left. Insuretech wasn’t a thing and now insuretech is one of the biggest spaces in terms of investing. A a lot of hot stuff is happening, right, that wasn't a thing even seven years ago. It wasn't really a thing.

Dave Franchino: One of the unique things about your background is that you were successful entrepreneur. You built and started a business from scratch. You kind of made it out of whole cloth and then successfully sold. It. Probably not everybody's going to have the luxury of that experience, but what are the things you learned through the startup experience that you think give you an edge as the leader of an innovation team in a large company?

Ryan Rist: I think it's a hundred percent about what's possible. If you think, “oh, that that would be impossible to do that” and then you find out that anything is possible. Really. And, of course, along the way you do a lot of dumb things and that's why seasoned entrepreneurs in our work are gold in my opinion because they have made so many dumb mistakes that they don't repeat and they're better and better and better after the fourth, fifth, sixth time. So, I made a bunch of dumb mistakes, but found out that anything … so much is possible today. And I mean the three of us starting the company from scratch, getting it to break into the market, getting customers and getting acquired. All of this in, it was a 10-year period or seven-year period. And all those dumb mistakes on top of it. So, I just think it's it shows you what's possible. It opened my eyes to no longer think that the status quo in any market everything … is up for grabs as long as you use a customer-centered way of problem solving, in my opinion. The customer has to be the center.

So, I think that \what's happened, in my opinion, is that technology is driving this, right? If there wasn't the cloud and we didn't have super computers in our pocket, Uber wouldn't be around. Right? So, technology is making it possible for there to be frictionless experiences and things like Amazon next day to just delight people. But also, what's happening is that customer expectations are changing, and they expect amazing products and services and they're only going to part with their hard-earned money with companies that can provide that. So again, if innovation is bringing things to the market that are better than what's out there, you have to understand what customers want and need. And the only way I have found successfully do that is that the tools and discipline that you've been practicing for a long time, and it took me I wish you're really my career would have found design thinking because it is it is so magical and it doesn't matter what you and I think – and that's a lot of problems big companies have is they sit in the board room and talk to each other and they say “This is great idea. Let's do it and let's put a lot of money on it.” And they're probably wrong. There's probably stuff they’re right about but design thinking immediately gets you out of the boardroom into the market into the lives of the people you're actually going to be trying to sell something to. 

Observing their behavior, interacting with them in a deep way, testing concepts, and you can do it all today so quickly that it's no longer this multi-year process. It’s fast. It's easy and it's data, so we don't have to argue over your idea or my idea. We can actually go and get empirical evidence. It’s a signal to us that one of these ideas is better than the other. It's democratizing. It's just this wonderful … everything about it. I think is just fun. It's hard work. It's stuff that I don't … there are very difficult moments of when you're in somebody's home. I've gone along on in-home visits with your team and others and it's painful. It's sad, it's seeing and hearing things that you wish didn't exist in society, but It builds that empathy muscle and it build, I think, a notion that ideas are cheap. We all got them. Let's go in the market and figure out what the customer really wants. right from direct experience. That you build out a great team within your organization.

Dave Franchino: I know from direct experience that you build out a great team within your organization. One of the things I'm kind of curious, you talked about, you know, wanting an entrepreneurial experience and your background. It would have been easy to say that, you know, there's people are drawn to working at big companies. There are big people who are drawn to doing startups, but you're trying to blend those two. What are the challenges and opportunities and what advice you might have to people who are trying to build a culture of innovation and want to recruit bright, talented young people and know they're competing for good people against, you know, what you talked about exactly a minute or two ago? It's really easy to do a startup and so you could try to build your own company. What would inspire somebody to want to come to work for you at American Family Insurance? How've you been successful at that?

Ryan Rist: Yeah, you know, I think the jury's still out on if we can retain everybody. I mean, first of all, thanks to you because you have trained some of the people that have come over and joined our team and they're trained very well. So, I, yeah, it's a good point is we're not trying to do corporate innovation and it is, specifically, corporate venture building, which brings two things together. It brings the power and the assets of a legacy, large enterprise, and it blends those with the speed, flexibility, and entrepreneurial talent of the startup world. We're taking those two things together.

So, it is a series of pros and cons, and there is a long list of pros and cons, and I think some of the pros are that I have access to people that have 30 years of industry knowledge that you could not find out on the market if you try to go find them. You couldn't find them. We built an awesome company and are in the process of it and our vice president of reinsurance has spent his career in the space and has educated me, has been a partner with us on understanding that space and opportunities that are there for us to go after. Never would have happened, right, outside a big company. We have data. We have tons of data. So, on this company we built the foundation of it, leveraging some of our data to gather some insights and models that could be used as the core of that product. So, it’s people. It’s data. It’s distribution. It’s we have an unfair advantage if we pick our work right. We have an unfair advantage over anybody we will get beaten pretty bad. So, part of my job is maintaining relevancy and selecting work where we can actually win.

You know, the cons are, especially in insurance, you have governance and decision-making that is intended to minimize risk and oftentimes slow down decision-making because it's not good for business. Right? We can't just introduce new things in the market. We are regulated and even though we're not always doing insurance things, that mindset and that governance process has been inherited from 80, 90 years of being in existence. And so, we often are always finding new things we need to undo or change because the way you should run American Family as insurance company and the way you should run, you know, an innovation function doesn’t always line up. But I think that those are all challenges that my team, we're all working through because of the advantages that we have, the assets that company brings. It's amazing.

Now the pitch I tell people is, “Come work with us and. you know, we'll build a business and maybe, you know, maybe you'll be a part of it. If you just like building businesses, we can do that. So, for seasoned entrepreneurs who have done a couple of startups, but don't know what they want to do next, we’re the perfect spot. They can come and solve hard problems and get paid to do it at a company that has a really big heart and, you know, has a social, good ethos build into it. So, I think that's why we're able to attract some amazing people on that story alone and I think we're starting to see it. Look at the company we built in Chicago, Moonrise. You know, that company is expanding and we're able to put financially challenged people looking for extra work … we're able to find them work and that's not insurance. But you can see how financial security is closely tied to insurance, right? If I don't have enough money to pay the bills, I'm probably not going to pay for insurance because it’s probably last on the list. I'm sorry. I don't have enough money to feed my family, right, insurance is the thing that people put on the bottom, but we can help bring financial security products to people and add to their financial stability it's not unrelated to insurance at all. It’s so interesting. We take a customer-centric view that makes sense. If you look at it from a product view, the industry view, you'd say, “What the heck are they doing over there?”

Dave Franchino: Talk about that in the context of the larger organization. What benefits accrue to the rest of the organization -- that sort of main line-type parts of the organization – by having an innovation arm that has permission and perhaps even a charter to look outside the traditional boundaries of the business? Why is that a benefit or a strategic advantage for American family?

Ryan Rist: Well, I would say a couple things. One, we've been able to build things that the companies are using today. So, we built a platform called Decision that have Ben Zimmerman is leading up. Ben’s just a fantastic leader and meteorologist and entrepreneur and Ben came and joined our team. We worked with partners in the company. We had a hunch. We were able to build something that couldn't be built inside the walls of American Family, and the company’s using it to significant financial benefit to their operations. So, I think that's one category benefit. I think the other is an outlet to try things that if you tried maybe inside those walls, we've rotated people through our team on a rotation basis and I think they get exposed to the pace of change out in the market. And they get exposed to startups, how startups work, and they get exposed to new ways of working and thinking. And they expose us to the challenges that we have running a big Insurance business. So, it's been I would say talent learnings, financial benefits, there's been cultural benefits.

Dave Franchino: Ryan, one thing that I think is inspiring to me and I would love you to maybe dig into a little bit that we talked earlier is innovating in a highly regulated industry. I'm positive there people are listening to this and saying “Well, I'm really handcuffed in innovation because of my level of regulation,” whether it is pharmaceutical, medical devices – all industries have some form of regulation, but your business is very highly regulated, yet you found ways to really push the boundaries of innovation in an environment where traditionally people might say you would be hamstrung. Have you found that to be possible? What advice might you have to people in other maybe unrelated highly regulated Industries?

Ryan Rist: Yeah, I think that there's two ends of the spectrum in that conversation. There's one where folks say that, “Oh, ignore it. It doesn't matter, you know, it's a false barrier. You know we don't really need to get a license. Let's go do this anyway.” That is not our approach. The other end of the spectrum might think is that, “Oh we're regulated so, therefore, we can't do anything.” I don't think that's true at all, either. And I think that you have to really unpack that because we often confuse an internal process with maybe a regulation because, you know, some regulation or compliance thing says we have to do this, so you create a process around it, these 20 steps. And then you go operate for 90 years and you lose sight of maybe what is the internal process? So, I think once you challenge yourself to say, “I'm not on that end of this spectrum. I'm not on the rule-breaking end, but I'm going to kind of push a little bit here.” I think there's a lot of room to do good things.

The other thing is that, you know, a lot of people don't engage with regulators. I think I have over my career and I find it fascinating and enlightening because the regulators, certainly in insurance, are there to protect the consumer. They're not there to just, you know, stop insurance coverage from doing things. They’re there to protect the consumer and so a lot of what we were doing with connected home I remember having conversations with regulators. And as long as what we're doing is in the customers’ best interest to providing value to the customer, you're not stealing their data and selling it, and it's clear what you're doing and the benefit and the customers are happy with that trade-off, you know, that's what they want. It would be interesting to know how many people who are in a regulated Industries and insurance -- or any industry like insurance – go engage with the regulators. Also think about you know state regulators today, insurance is state regulated, and they outmanned and outgunned when it's AI driven technology, right and they're already seeing pricing that they can't figure out. You used to be able to open up a manual and figure out your auto insurance rates. Now, there's computer-driven segmentation that have thousands or millions of segments. So, who knows what it is, and I think that's made it harder for regulators to do their job, a bit more suspicious of big companies.

So, I think that the transparency and engagement and pushing off that right end of the spectrum maybe a little more towards “What can we do?” I think it's kind of an excuse, really. I think that if somebody says, “We're regulated. We can't do anything.” I would challenge that.

Dave Franchino: I think that's some great advice. I think that makes an awful lot of sense right now. I'm positive that somebody's listening to this who might lead a company and its thinking, “Oh gosh, you know, that's a really good idea. We should create an internal innovation organization.” And I know you're in a really good place with your team right now, but I'm positive there were some hard-fought lessons and difficult sort of journey to get your organization to where it is right now. What advice would you have to another business leader who's thinking of cleaving off part of their organization and creating an innovation part of their organization or specifically chartered with that? What are the watch-out points? What are the things you think you'd like to share that are hard-fought lessons?

Ryan Rist: We've had a lot of those, and I think characterizing our journey, it was we had some exceptional leaders from day one. Peter Gunder, Jack Salzwedel, and Dan Reed – we had exceptional leaders who were able to attract other people that wanted to work for them, and they took one foot and put it in front of the next. We didn't have all the answers, but we went and tried things and some things work, some things didn’t, so that notion that a journey of a million miles starts with one step. I mean, that's certainly sort of lesson number one.

I also think a lot of why corporate innovation functions fail is they immediately look at other companies, other big companies. Well, that's like what Nike’s doing. That's what Apple's doing. That's the wrong approach because your disruption is not coming from incumbents. It's coming from startups and this is a common problem. So, you end up, well, they've got an idea database and they do hack about, they do this. We're going to mimic that, and it ends up being a lot of activity and somebody eventually is going to say, you know, what we got to do is focus on the business. And, by the way, you're not you're not actually capturing and sharing an economic value that you're creating. The disruptions coming from startups. I 100 percent believe that. So, the more you lean into the startup culture – and that could be by investing in startups, it could be by going to demo days, it could be by trying to start one, try to support one, partnering with one that's doing something interesting. You have to lean into that world. And by leaning into that world, so many of those doors kind of opened up for us, not just where to look but how to actually work with type of talent we think we can we can recruit. So many things happen by leaning into the startup world.

So, for lesson number two, I would say don't be afraid to go on record saying that we're going to make money for the company. Everybody punts on the financial system. Well, no, you just got to do innovation. You don't have a choice and it's going to be a money drain, but you got to do it. I fundamentally disagree with that. That's for people that don't do it. Well, if you do Innovation well, you will outperform whatever your cost of capital is, whatever your internal rate of return is, in my opinion, because there's so much opportunity now. It might not be the same prize. It's not going to be your one. It's not going to be your two, but if you can say “Look, I will return every dollar you give me and I'll beat whatever internal number you have, but you got to give me five, six, seven years to do it.” Otherwise, it's just an exercise and activity. So, I think you have to put a stake in the ground and say this is not just a fun little group of people playing with toys. We're going to drive economic value back to the organization. If you don't drive economic value, you shouldn't do it.

Dave Franchino: That's really inspiring that makes a lot of sense. I would have probably been guilty of a lot of the things you talked about. So, I think that's some great advice. Maybe just one last question. I'll give you some time to kind of wrap up in that regard, but conversely there are probably leaders of organizations that either won't have the luxury of creating an internal innovation organization or don't have the size and scale where that make sense or are hamstrung in some capacity. So, what advice would you have to leaders that don't explicitly run an innovation organization, but are trying to allow their organizations to be more innovative?

Ryan Rist: Yeah. I think we talked about corporate innovation is two parts – there’s cultural and then there's like the advance scouts who are either building or buying or acquiring or investing in the next billion-dollar line of business. The cultural part is most important because if you don't have a culture that is bottom-up decision-making where people feel empowered they have the tools they need, it doesn't matter how good the other stuff is. Your company will fail in this new world that we're in.

And so, I think it's okay that you don't have a venture capital team or an innovation function. You have leaders of the business and those leaders need to be exposed to startups. And what's happening generators in our backyard, a world-class, top 15 accelerator. They've got a corporate innovation function. You guys are right across the street, you know, we worked with you early to sort of learn design thinking and start to build that muscle. Those are things you can do without investing a ton of money, is hold your leaders accountable for building a culture where they're letting people feel empowered because if you don't have that you're going to be responsible for predicting the future. But if you engage your teams, you teach them design thinking. If you give them the tools to be in power, you'll start to build that culture where people feel like they can actually listen to the customer. Try things. Experiment. You do enough experimentation, you will find something really interesting. You have a lot of failures. You will find something really interesting as long as you're focused on the customer, so I don't think this has to be a massive expense. I would focus on the people and the leaders of the business because that's where it starts.

Dave Franchino: It's great advice and a fascinating conversation. Once again, this is Dave Franchino. I'd really like to thank my guest today Ryan Rist, Director of Innovation for American Family Insurance. It's been a great conversation, Ryan. Congratulations on all your career success and all the great stuff you've done for American Family Insurance, and thanks for sharing your thoughts with us today.

Ryan Rist: Thanks, Dave. Thanks for having me.

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