So much of today’s “innovation” focuses on incremental product improvements — shiny, new features for products that have been around for decades but don’t truly transform our paradigms. Innovation is supposed to be the cure all for what ails us, but if we’re still subscribing to the status quo, have we experienced innovation at all?
A true innovation transforms power and resources. When I work with innovators, we find a lever that shifts the dominant narrative, creating a new story where everyone can thrive. Often these levers do involve existing technologies, but they are applied in surprising and unorthodox ways. It requires a deep reflective and inclusive design practice, unlearning our ideas of what successful innovation even looks like. But most importantly, when we desire to create something with lasting impact, we have to ask ourselves: who are we innovating for?
Here are some of the innovative companies I’m seeing that are answering that question boldly:
Cognixion has leveraged augmented reality to transform communication for individuals with disabilities. Cognixion’s “assistive reality” products provide individuals with a communication resource, increasing participation amongst those who are often left out. Instead of using augmented reality to embellish our world, Cognixion has created a new category of augmented reality that expands access and ability to those who have been left behind. When more individuals are able to participate, I consider that an effective innovation.
Bliss is the first finance application I’ve found that leverages an existing financial instrument to better serve those who are often marginalized. Bliss, which caters towards transgender individuals, but is also expanding to serve survivors of violence, uses treasury bills to build financial independence. For many, having their money in treasury bills is the first introduction to investment, and I personally think it’s an easy on ramp to understanding and growing wealth. Bliss has other phenomenal benefits, but using something as overlooked as treasury bills to help vulnerable people enter the investment space gives greater depth to what’s possible in innovation.
Vot-ER is pioneering voting as a social innovation, bringing voter registration to healthcare visits. Founded by ER physician Dr. Alister Martin, vot-ER is leading the way in civic health, demonstrating the impact voter registration has on healthcare and health outcomes. Voting has been an overlooked tool in community care, but with Vot-ER’s voter registration badges, clinicians can help their patients beyond the clinic. Innovations that expand access and power to more individuals don’t necessarily need new technology. Often we just need new thinking and a new approach to transform our ordinary way of doing things into something extraordinary.
As we continue our pursuit of innovation, I encourage every innovator to take a moment and reflect on who they are really innovating for? If we continue to chase gizmos and gadgets that only help those who already have power and resources, will we ever be able to see the full potential of innovation? Innovation, at its core, is an opportunity to do things better. But better isn’t enough. We must use innovation so that we can create efficient, effective and sustainable solutions so everyone — not just the few– can thrive.
Ari Mostov is a narrative strategist. She helps companies navigate disruption through the power of story, bringing her entertainment expertise to innovation. Learn more at www.wellplay.world.