Commentary

Innovation Is A Life-And-Death Decision

No, this article is not about the “ROI of Survival,” as I like to refer to it when I give keynote presentations on innovation. Well, actually, it kind of is -- but using an indirect example to illustrate the point.

Texting and driving is a bit of a global epidemic. For example, in the U.S. texting while driving is responsible for 1.6 million accidents and 330,000 injuries every year. In fact 25% of ALL car accidents are texting-related. Worse still is that nearly a dozen teens die every day from texting while driving.

Texting and driving is today’s equivalent of drinking and driving.

Currently, 43 states have banned texting while driving, with fines ranging from $20 in California to $243 in New York and up to $10,000 and one year in jail in Alaska!

To help counter this disturbing trend, enter “It Can Wait,” an initiative designed to educate people, especially teens, about the dangers of texting while driving. Think of it as today’s, “This is your brain on drugs” PSA du jour.

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One of the elements of the program is a series of downloadable apps for mobile phones. These apps include:

  • AT&T DriveMode
  • Verizon Safely Go
  • Safely Go for Sprint

Let’s start with the good: AT&T’s DriveMode uses the phone’s built-in GPS functionality -- like Waze -- to essentially calculate speed traveled, and when the vehicle is moving at 25 mph or faster, the app automatically sends a customizable auto-reply message to incoming texts, letting people know that the driver will reply to them when they are finished driving.

Safely Go will receive calls and texts for the driver when they’re on the road, kind of like a virtual assistant.

From a technology standpoint, this isn’t rocket science, but what I really like is that it conforms to several key practices that I teach startup founders when they’re looking to build their prototype:

1.     What’s the inefficiency you’re addressing or problem you’re solving?

2.     How can technology help?

3.     What built-in, natural phone functionality can be leveraged to achieve this?

Now the bad: AT&T is only available on Android and BlackBerry. Verizon and Sprint don’t indicate a platform restriction, but both links only go to Google’s Play page.

And the ugly: There’s nary a mention of T-Mobile or any other carriers.

So apparently, there is a price or budget ceiling when it comes to saving lives and keeping people safe.

Nice job, everyone!

I’m not sure whether these are specific startups that have licensed their technology to the different carriers, an initiative funded by Google, or just a work in progress from the not-for-profit (and therefore budget constrained) organization. Either way, it’s completely unacceptable that something like this isn’t available to EVERY carrier on EVERY platform or operating system.

On a macro note, it’s endemic of many -- if not most -- corporate innovation initiatives that applied once upon a time to digital (think banner, button and skyscraper versioning), social (choose your social hub) and these days, mobile (pick an operating system; don’t show me; now place it randomly back into the pack.)

For most corporations or brands, we’re talking rounding errors on an obtuse and bloated budget that throws (away) the overwhelming lion’s share of dollars to the paid media landfill. And yet, every single penny associated with game-changing innovation experimentation, evolution or investment has to be begged for, borrowed or stolen.

It’s an embarrassment in general, but in this specific case, it’s an absolute disgrace.

I’d like to see every single wireless carrier, operating system and handset operator join forces to co-fund an initiative that not only is 100% inclusive and representative, but also invests heavily in innovation in order to continually iterate the solution.

Instead of standardizing pixel sizes, like buttons or mobile OS, how about standardizing saving lives instead?

And as for every other brand, the stakes may not literally be life and death, but it may very well be the difference-maker to your corporate longevity, health and wellness.

2 comments about "Innovation Is A Life-And-Death Decision ".
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  1. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, April 1, 2014 at 12:24 p.m.

    When the insurance companies get involved since it is costing them a fortune in payouts, the word may spread faster. Texting while driving ? Did you notice the paragraph in your car insurance contract that your coverage negates that contract when there is proof of texting while driving ? That means you owe personally what you destroy. Owe means your car, your house, a lean on your future earnings and we know what that means to your credit. And car insurance company payments can zoom. Perhaps the insurance companies would like to jump on the prevention life and death decisions.

  2. Maarten Albarda from Flock Associates (USA), April 1, 2014 at 4:13 p.m.

    To add: not just texting, but - almost more importantly given the demo of the most at-risk audience - we need to include Whatsapp, FB messenger, etc. The technology should block all incoming distractions, text, instant messenger platforms, calls, etc.

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