For many institutions, including the families we nurture and the companies we foster, “pay-it-forward” moments are critical for sharing knowledge and building cultural frameworks that are both resilient and adaptable to changing circumstances. The metaphor of planting a tree that only a child or grandchild will live to appreciate is a powerful one.
While there are absolutely essential things to be done in the short term, failure to consider the long term can have significant negative consequences. One of the challenges of leadership is finding the right balance to facilitate success across a spectrum of horizons.
I was reminded of this on a personal level recently. When I was young, my grandfather, who I generally remember as the very formal and serious rocket scientist that he was, would take a break each summer so my brother and I could head “down the shore” in New Jersey and enjoy the sand and surf. Years later, I found pictures of him doing the same thing in the 1940s with my mom and her brother.
The pattern was clear. He stepped out of his own comfort zone to create meaningful and memorable experiences for his loved ones. Recently, my wife and I had the chance to take our two grandsons to enjoy time on the sands of North Carolina, and I jumped at the opportunity. I don’t really enjoy the shore on my own, but to share the experiences I remember from my own childhood? It is simply fantastic to watch the wonder and excitement of new discoveries.
Passing Lessons Onward
I remember similar experiences with key corporate influencers who became valued mentors over time. Great insight came with interesting and memorable turns of phrase that helped me understand complex operational and political environments. Favorites included the CFO who told me to “be sure you’re running toward something rather than away from something.” Or the CIO who shared that “the right answer at the wrong time is (still) the wrong answer.” Or the business unit president who noted that “no resource is more abused that a free one.”
All of these insights were part of learning both what the companies I worked for did and, perhaps more importantly, why we were doing it. With the many changes occurring in today’s world, from the pandemic to demographic shifts to the Great Resignation, some of these important lessons aren’t being paid forward to the next generation of organizational leaders.
I’ve observed a form of “institutional dementia” emerging. Organizations may know where they are, but they aren’t completely sure how they got there and are being left to their own devices to frame next steps. Too often it seems that the script from “Groundhog Day” becomes the basis for a strategic plan.
The resulting challenges can be significant. This is where many of the insights from the Aite-Novarica Group’s insurance practice can be so valuable. In addition to offering critical strategic insights, we can also provide a form of institutional memory. Last week, for example, I got a call from a CIO who moved from one Research Council member carrier to another. How fast can we set up access for the new company? In a matter of minutes, it turns out.
I’ve been graced with the opportunity to work for an array of terrific companies including Prudential, Guardian, Nationwide, and First Citizens Bank. I’ve now added a tenth anniversary to my time at Novarica/Aite-Novarica Group. Time flies when you’re having fun. More to the point, the opportunity now to pay it forward from here is brilliant.
As we race toward 2023, many leaders are going to need to consider how they will prepare their organizations for a dynamic business environment that is different than anything they have dealt with in the past—exciting and angst-laden at the same time. Knowledge management and inter-generational insight transfers are going to be increasingly critical to success. Game on!
CIO members of our Insurance Technology Research Council regularly share information about how they are dealing with these challenges; interested in joining this free community? Email me at [email protected] to learn more. Interested in joining the conversation in person? Sign up for one of our upcoming Regional Roundtable meetings in Philadelphia, New York City, Des Moines, and Boston.