Image Source: Fast Company

Background

Fast Company recently published its annual overview of the World’s Most Innovative Companies. This highly anticipated list provides a snapshot of the state of innovation, including how companies are applying technology to provide better experiences and products. The 2021 list underlines how businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic are innovating in more purposeful ways to improve society, too.

Details and Implications

Many of the businesses highlighted in Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies of 2021 list innovated in some astonishing ways as a direct result of the pandemic. As Fast Company’s editors noted, “From the biotech firms behind the first mRNA vaccines (Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna) to a real estate developer creating high-quality affordable housing (Stablegold Hospitality), the World’s 50 Most Innovative Companies address a society remade by COVID-19.”

Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech were ranked Number One and Two for the way they rapidly accelerated the development of COVID-19 vaccines, whose speed and scale we discussed in December 2020. With zero margin for error, these companies needed to manage a complex ecosystem of organizations to not only develop but figure out how to distribute the vaccines within a year of the genetic sequence of COVID-19 being first obtained – a process that typically would take years for development alone. Pfizer moved the fastest, while Moderna created a vaccine that could be transported more broadly.

Other businesses on the list innovated in ways that helped people and businesses adapt to a post-pandemic world. For example, Ping an Good Doctor and Teladoc Health both connect patients with prescription services and online medical providers (Ping an Good Doctor also uses artificial intelligence to screen patients and make more efficient use of a doctor’s time). These telehealth services are essential at a time when the use of virtual care doubled as the pandemic took hold. Meanwhile, Outschool, a marketplace for virtual extracurriculars, such as ukulele lessons and food-science experiments, helped families living under quarantine to find resources for kids to learn remotely, which helped alleviate the mental strain of parents trying to juggle their jobs and family life under one roof – a major source of stress during the pandemic. The remote learning model may very well become more of the norm for education, an industry that continues to reel from the effects of the pandemic.

The real impact of these mindful innovations will be felt for years beyond the pandemic because they have tapped into trends that pre-dated the pandemic. At-home fitness brands such as Lululemon and Peloton, which both made the list, tapped into a broader movement toward smarter wellness. (Lululemon, whose roots are in fitness apparel, did so via its acquisition of fitness firm Mirror.) Virtual care providers such as Teladoc were already becoming popular long before COVID-19 came along; but the pandemic accelerated their popularity.

What these and many other examples demonstrate, though, is the role businesses can play to improve society during our darkest times. How well will they keep up the momentum in 2021 and beyond?

Summary

Fast Company has stated the case for mindful innovation – or innovation that improves the lives of others while delivering business value. A number of innovators enjoyed increases in their stock value in 2020. Design practices such as human-centered design can help businesses make mindful product development a reality. Meanwhile, the Fast Company list provides plenty of inspiration.

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