John O'Connor illustration
McKnight’s Editorial Director John O’Connor

Build a better mouse trap and the world will beat a path to your door, or so the saying goes.

While mice might have a different opinion, the sentiment undeniably fuels innovation across various sectors, including senior living.

And to be clear, it can be argued quite convincingly that senior living is where the action is when it comes to incorporating better living options for our most seasoned demographic. Beginning with the concept of assisted living itself. Those of us who have been around for a while can recall that in its infancy, assisted living was essentially developed and marketed as an antidote to nursing home care.

Assisted living, later rebranded as senior living, introduced novel choices, enhanced services, increased independence and a departure from regimented daily routines. Those concepts may seem fairly commonplace these days. But there was a time when they were viewed as revolutionary — and potentially risky.

Senior living excelled in pioneering dementia care and spearheading initiatives such as concierge-based services and community integration. Despite those strides, the industry largely has overlooked a potent source of innovation: its residents and their families.

For all the money that is spent by communities convincing prospects to make the move, much of the innovation has been of the inside-out variety. By that, I mean the field is full of entrepreneurs and numbers savants who have their own ideas about what’s best for their business, thank you very much.

That observation, by the way, is not meant as an indictment. The attitude seemed to serve Steve Jobs fairly well at Apple. And many other billionaires, to boot.

Still, why not take help wherever it can be found? I was struck by the potential here while reading recently that more than a few major brands have turned to their own customers for new ideas.

For example, the toymaker Lego began an ideas program in 2008 that gathers input for new concepts from its users. More than 50 of the submissions have reached production.

Other  firms are hosting crowdfunding campaigns. When a notion gets enough votes, the business gives the concept a try.

Certainly, this concept has numerous iterations, each holding extraordinary potential. So, the next time your organization’s strategists contemplate possible game-changers for your senior living enterprise, remember: the solution might be closer than you think.

John O’Connor is editorial director for McKnight’s Senior Living and its sister media brands, McKnight’s Long-Term Care News, which focuses on skilled nursing, and McKnight’s Home Care. Read more of his columns here.