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Kian Saneii believes that to avoid obsolescence, the Senior Living Industry needs to take more of an early-adopter approach to innovation.

“Innovation is not about actions causing outcomes. It about changing our focus, focusing on beliefs as much as outcomes, what’s possible as much as what’s assured and needed,” says the CEO of Independa, Inc., a San Diego-based software company dedicated to providing solutions that support independence and wellness as we age.

He believes innovation follows a pattern that begins by establishing a solid corporate belief system. Beliefs impact behavior, which leads to actions and then outcomes. “Innovation occurs when we focus on behavior and nurture a system.”

“Innovation occurs when we focus on behavior and nurture a system.”

While the process Saneii describes sounds orderly, true innovation usually results from a degree of disorder, risk taking and through creating work environments that welcome new ideas and overlook ambitious failures. The conservative senior living community can learn from history and adopt concepts from innovative industries like tech, he says.


Throughout U.S. history, shortsighted companies have failed to see the long-term possibilities of new innovations, even now seemingly obvious breakthroughs like the telephone met with resistance. Saneii sites a Western Union memo from 1876. “The telephone has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us.”

Celebrate Failure

Senior Living needs to embrace the Silicon Valley approach to business, accepting and even celebrating ambitious failures as the learning exercises and opportunities for growth they represent, rather than punishing creative thinkers for breaking the rules, he says.

“Failure is celebrated there,” says Saneii, who quotes Bill Gates, “Success is the worst teacher.” He adds that, although it is essential, knowledge should be secondary to imagination. The key to success in any industry is to nurture new ideas, try them, fail quickly whenever possible and then move on.”

“Success is the worst teacher.” Bill Gates

For senior living, breaking down corporate hierarchies is essential to growth. Saneii emphasizes that often the most innovative ideas come from those lower-paid employees who work directly with seniors on a daily basis. “It’s important not to be hierarchal about ideas.”

The Demise of Wang & Blockbuster

What happens when we play it too safe? Saneii offers a few cautionary tales.

A tidy approach to business leads to slow death, he believes, siting industry leaders from the 1980s – Blockbuster and Massachusetts-based computer giant Wang Laboratories, which generated $3 billion annually and employed over 30,000 in the 1980s, but ceased operations in 1992.  While Netflix embraced new concepts (thinking several steps ahead), Blockbuster – which employed over 80,000 people in the 1990s – attempted to keep things neat and tidy, refining the status quo.


“Netflix and Blockbuster both saw streaming media at the same time. It wasn’t a mystery,” he says. “The CEO of Netflix predicted chaos and saw that something different was the right thing to do. Blockbuster took the same actions and tried to increase in-store revenue.” The video rental giant declared bankruptcy in 2013.

The message, he says, is that “Without order, nothing can exist. Without chaos, nothing can evolve.”

“Without order, nothing can exist. Without chaos, nothing can evolve.”

Staying Relevant

For senior living, next steps should involve truly embracing the overused adage of “thinking outside the box,” he says, adding, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”

A great example of this principle is the now celebrated and emulated Hogeweyk, a senior community in the Netherlands designed to look like the outside world, while serving the needs of residents living with dementia.

“At first, people thought it was stupid. Now, they see the results, which included fewer interventions, lower overall costs and a higher quality of life,” Saneii says, describing the unique facility often called “Dementia Village.”

“This is an example of the adage that every truth passes through three stages before it is recognized. In the first, it is ridiculed. In the second it is opposed and in the third stage it is considered self-evident.”

Saneii’s parting advice to fearful senior living executives—take risks. “Celebrate failure. Iterate quickly. Fail quickly and inexpensively, and then do something else to continue with your innovation culture.  Long term, the value and competitive advantage you create will be compelling.”

Watch Kian Saneii's full presentation in the video below. Enjoy!

Michael P. Owens

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Michael P. Owens is Co-Founder + Managing Partner of influence group, a leading producer of invite-only B2B events.

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