Interview with Tomasz Kurczyk, Chief Transformation and Digital Officer at AXA.


In 20+ years of studying creativity I hear it all the time: “To be creative you have to take risks!” It might be one of the biggest clichés in creativity (together with “think outside the box” and “stepping outside your comfort zone”.)

And while it can be argued that you need risk-taking to get creative, I thought it would be interesting to learn about creativity from someone who works in an industry dedicated to protect against and prevent risk.

Meet: Tomasz Kurczyk, Chief Transformation and Digital Officer at AXA in Singapore. AXA is one of the world’s leading insurance and asset management groups, serving 108 million clients, individuals, and businesses, in 57 countries.

I talked to Tomasz about what we can learn about creativity from the insurance industry – an industry dedicated to keeping us safe from risk.

He told me that the insurance industry is set up to:

 a) Search for potential risks including exploring worst-case scenarios

b) Look for data to find the probability of it happening and risk drivers

c) Look for someone who is willing to share the risk of it happening

A creative insurance solution he told me about was that someone introduced an insurance against losing your wedding band. You pay a monthly fee for the security of knowing that they will replace the ring should you lose it … I guess you can calculate the risk of someone losing their wedding ring and put a price on that. And I am sure, for someone, it is an insurance worth paying for.

Risk is everywhere, from small risks (like the wedding ring example) to climate change, cyber security and political risks. The insurance industry is basically in the business of reverse-engineering the worst-case scenario, identifying the risk drivers and then putting a price on that. In search for insurance product innovation insurers leverage inversion – instead of thinking directly for your customer goal, think about what you want to avoid and then see what options are leftover.

One key insight I got from my conversation with Tomasz was when he told me: “Most people are not aware of their own risk.”

I found that profound.

He expanded his thoughts by explaining that probabilistic thinking and probability awareness is not something natural for people and a lot of people simply do not want to think about bad things happening to them, because no one likes to think about getting e.g. critically ill or having an accident.

It means that people are not taking “calculated risk” – instead they are taking “ignorant risk”!

It is one thing to know the risk of something happening and what are the important factors driving it and then deciding to bet against it or not. It is a totally different thing to decide to bet on something without knowing the risks of it not ending well.

It is my firm belief that many people say that they take a “calculated risk” when they in fact are taking an “ignorant risk”. 

In your next creative project take some inspiration from the insurance industry: Instead of “jumping into the unknown”, jump into “the calculated expectability of something”.

Instead of taking risk, take deliberate steps against risk. Look at the problem from many different directions to think about all the things that could go wrong, put a probability of it happening and think of how you can minimise them from happening by applying inversion and identifying factors driving the risk.

That is not how most people approach creative problems – it might even sound counter productive and even boring – but that is exactly why I urge you to try it. It might get you to look at a creative problem in a totally different way by approaching the creative process not from a risk-taking perspective, but risk-avoiding perspective.




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