The Battle for Smart Creatives

Smart Creatives ActuaryI recently read the best-selling book “How Google Works,” by Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg. It is one of the best books I have read, in any genre, in quite some time.  The book focuses on technology companies, but also provides useful insights to industries like ours.  One key insight is the importance of “smart creatives” to the actuarial profession.

The authors differentiate between traditional “knowledge workers” and smart creatives.  Knowledge workers work in information-based jobs and think for a living.  Traditional knowledge workers “thrive in the straitjacketed world of corporate process, by building deep expertise in a narrow set of skills. They don’t seek mobility…As a result, most knowledge workers in traditional environments develop deep technical expertise but little breadth, or broad management expertise but no technical depth.”

Smart creatives are “multidimensional, usually combining technical depth with business savvy and creative flair.”  Smart creatives are first and foremost smart; but not just book smart.  They are analytically smart (data driven), business smart, competitively smart (market aware), and end-user smart; and  they are also creative.  They are curious, risk takers, self-directed, open and collaborative, and communicative.

At Google, smart creatives are:

  • Not confined to specific tasks
  • Not limited in their access to information and computing power
  • Not averse to taking risks, nor are they punished when risky initiatives fail
  • Not held back, but rather encouraged to exercise their own ideas
  • Not quiet when they disagree with something

Google views smart creatives as nothing less than “the key to achieving success in the Internet century.” I couldn’t agree more.  Both our profession and our employers are in pitched battles to attract and retain as many of the best smart creatives as possible.

I’ve had a front row seat in the battle for smart creatives in the actuarial profession.  Numerous companies have been extremely successful largely from the efforts of their smart creatives not only in data driven leadership, but in specific developments such as predictive analytics and enterprise risk management (ERM). The success of companies that make extensive use of smart creatives like Progressive and Farmers is indisputable.

Can an insurance company survive without an emphasis on smart creatives?  Yes.  Can the company thrive? No.  Sooner or later a competitor with a data driven, risk taking group of smart creatives and leadership that encourages them will realize the opportunity presented by the non-innovating competitor and target that book of business with good data supporting it.

The actuarial profession can also survive without an emphasis on attracting and training smart creatives, it cannot thrive.  The perception our employers and customers have of actuaries and their recognized value will be greatly enhanced by the CAS attracting and training more smart creatives.  When I look at the actuaries who have moved into C-level executive positions, they are often, if not always, smart creatives.  They have the analytical smarts all actuaries possess, but their business skills, ability to communicate, and creativity allow them to distinguish themselves in executive roles.  Many of the CAS’ most important development efforts are focusing on attracting smart creatives to the profession at the college level, providing them with the educational materials and opportunities they need to succeed professionally and keeping them engaged with the CAS throughout their careers. Everything the CAS can do in the coming years to attract and develop smart creatives is the key to the CAS continuing to thrive in the Internet century.

The CAS would like to hear your thoughts about smart creatives. How important do you think smart creatives are to the actuarial profession? Are there other things the CAS could do to attract smart creatives? Please share your thoughts by commenting below.

This blog post is from the In My Opinion – The Battle for Smart Creatives, printed in the May/June Issue of the Actuarial Review. 


About Robert Walling

Robert J. Walling III, FCAS, MAAA is a principal and consulting actuary with Pinnacle Actuarial Resources. He currently serves as a member of the CAS Board of Directors.