Saying no: the secret to innovation


Jacqui Thompson

Head of Finance, Risk and Compliance, AA Insurance

Steve Jobs once said the secret to innovation is "saying no to 1,000 things".

We should all reflect on what we choose not to do as much as the things we decide to pursue.

AA Insurance is committed to providing simple, uncomplicated insurance products to the majority of New Zealanders, offering policies that meet most people’s needs. We do this in a way that is easy for consumers to understand.

Sure, we are interested in trying new things, and are forever committed to ongoing continuous improvement. As examples, we revised some of our product offerings in a way that appeals to more New Zealanders like revitalising Classic Vehicle cover, introducing a standalone Landlord policy, and separating two distinct policies, Motorhome and Caravan. Not only does this appeal to specific customers, but makes it easier to match our products with what our customers have told us they want.

Customers demand simplicity, and simplicity requires us to eliminate anything that creates confusion or complication, like offering our customers their documentation via email.

But it can be just as interesting to look at what we said no to. We spent time and effort over the past few years rationalising what we offered our customers. and realised we needed to say no to some options to concentrate on the things we knew we could do well, deliver the quality and service our customers require, and keep it simple for everyone.

Like other companies, we sometimes need to recognise that we can’t do everything to the level that we aspire to, so it’s best to prioritise and concentrate on the things we know we can do well, and provide products and processes that appeal to most people.

Our challenge is to keep thinking of new, better and more effective ways to deliver on our purpose to our customers, which is to eliminate their stress and provide them with certainty. We should always look to innovate, continually improve what and how we do things, but at the same time, not act on every ‘good idea’ we come up with.

Innovation is not always about the ‘next big thing’, it does not always need to be a game changer, all it requires is to do things differently, change something that is not working or make something better – for the customer or each other. We should always question why we do things in a certain way, whether we should we be doing it at all, and what the benefit is of doing it the way we do. A great way to start is get a group of people together and talk about what frustrates them in their job, or what frustrates a customer when they are dealing with us. There’s no point fixing something if it’s not broken.

Innovation can be messy, it can be frustrating as we try things that sometimes fail, or don’t quite hit the mark, but when we land on a winner it’s all the better. For example, having real live people answering our phones to provide the level of service we’re proud of, instead of an IVR recorded telephone systems partnered with overseas providers. It is a real point of difference for us amongst the industry.

The entire team needs to play a part in innovation and continuous improvement and keep ensuring your company remains relevant to customers. Great ideas don’t just come from those setting the strategy, they need to reflect what staff, customers, peers, and the public are looking for.

Keep challenging yourself and your team to think differently about what you are doing and ask why a lot. Keep thinking of things you would do differently and raise them with others for their views. And finally, don’t be put off if someone says no to your first 999 ideas, because the next one could be the best idea yet!


About AA Insurance

AA Insurance is an independently operated, New Zealand-based joint venture between the New Zealand Automobile Association (NZAA) and Vero Insurance New Zealand Limited (VINZL). Since 1994 we have demonstrated trusted expertise in home, contents and car insurance in New Zealand, and in 2018 introduced commercial small business insurance. We underwrite our own policies and sell direct to New Zealanders. Our more than 720 staff look after over 410,000 customers with around 800,000 policies.

We proudly partner with Eden Park, support youth charity Blue Light, and have been consistently recognised by: Reader’s Digest Most Trusted Brands (since 2011), IBM Kenexa Best Workplaces Survey (since 2008), Canstar Blue Most Satisfied Customers (2011-2018), and the Colmar Brunton Corporate Reputation Index (since 2015) that recognises New Zealand’s most successful companies.

AA Insurance has an A+ (Strong) Insurer Financial Strength Rating given by Standard and Poor’s (Australia) Pty Ltd. For further information visit

For more information please contact:

Nicole Steven, Botica Butler Raudon Partners, (09) 303 3862, 021 025 31886 or email

Amanda Fifield, AA Insurance Limited, (09) 927 2085 or email

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