Keep Moving

Winter 2013

Soundings

Keep Moving

By Eli Broad

Eli Broad is founder of SunAmerica and KB Home. From The Art of Being Unreasonable: Lessons in Unconventional Thinking (Wiley). ©2012

Innovation is especially important in today’s most dynamic economic sectors. Barriers to entry are low. Initial costs might be nothing more than registering a domain name and getting a decent server. It took decades for Johnson & Johnson to gain its nationwide prominence in the consumer-goods market. It took Google only a few years to blow every other search engine offline. The point is to keep moving, especially now, when everything moves faster.

At SunAmerica, we updated our signature annuity product, the Polaris fund, almost every year subsequent to its introduction. When we launched the fund, we were first movers: The fund was the first to offer middle-class customers the ability to switch their money from fixed to variable annuities and back again without paying a fee each time. That meant when interest rates were high and the market was down, a customer could easily switch over to fixed annuities, which yield a higher return in that climate. If the opposite happened, the customer could move to variable annuities. The fund was also managed by a group of talented investment professionals—something no other annuity company offered at the time. We had to play a careful game of timing to keep ahead of second movers. We didn’t want to cannibalize our own products, but we also didn’t want to wait for our competitors to beat us.

Not everyone can be an original thinker, but everyone can be a rational one. Innovation doesn’t always mean creating something from thin air that needs a patent or a copyright. It just means always looking for ways to improve, sharpen, and evolve what you do—whether it’s refining a product, keeping up with new technologies in your line of work, or reaching new customers in new ways, all based on the lessons of the first mover. As I often say, let someone else go first and get the arrows in their back.

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