Who are the world’s most innovative companies?
This isn’t an easy question to answer, because the criteria used to select them varies between the different publications that publish the league tables. Some attempt to take an objective approach and others are clearly more subjective. Is one better than the other? Well, ‘objective’ is logically superior, but in my opinion, it doesn’t always result in an unequivocally definitive answer. For example, there are two highly respected publications that pride themselves on being objective – Forbes and Thomson Innovation – yet when you examine their lists of the Top 100 most innovative companies, there is not one company that shows up on both lists. The reason for this lack of consensus all comes back to different definitions of ‘innovation’.
The usual suspects
If I asked you to name the most innovative companies of 2017, who would you choose? Surveys show that many people name companies like Nike, Apple and Google. This has more to do with these firm’s high visibility and what marketing people call ‘brand equity’, which means they get selected because they create an impression of always being on the cutting edge. But does that mean they actually are being innovative? In many cases the answer is yes. Some may be riding the waves of previous achievements, but others continue to innovate based on their existing platform, and to me that is a sign of a successful innovator.
For example, The Fast Company, which publishes an annual league table of the most innovative companies, puts Amazon in No.1 spot. Its table is based on consumer and marketers research. So, that needs to be kept in mind when assessing their list. Why is Amazon at the top of its list, because consumers perceive it as “offering more, even faster and smarter?” Scrolling down its list, there are a lot of the usual suspects in the Top 10: Uber, Google, Facebook and Netflix are all there, as you might expect.
Communications innovation features strongly
However, if you look at the winners by sector, there are less well-known names, and these really interest me, partly because more than a few are in my field of communications. Tencent’s WeChat messaging app is so popular that it “has more users than there are smartphones in China.” It has reached this level of popularity in China because it isn’t just a messaging app; users can also book a taxi, or a restaurant and even pay the bill for dinner without leaving WeChat. Alongside, Alibaba, an innovation winner in the retail sector, these are the two most valuable companies in Asia. BBK is in the smartphone market and one of its innovations is targeting the rural areas of China with solid, low cost mobile handsets. This approach has given them domination of the Chinese market: BBK sells through 200,000 independent retailers who receive healthy commissions for sales in this historically untapped market. As you can see, Asia features prominently in mobile communication innovation.
Open Whisper’s Signal app
Open Whisper Systems and its Signal app is another winner. Its open-source protocol, “which ensures messages are visible only to their intended recipients, is used for confidential messaging in apps collectively installed by more than 2 billion users.” The business has achieved this without ever placing an ad or having a marketing budget. It relies on just a handful of staff paid with funds from grants and donations, as well as code contributions from a worldwide community of developers and users. This is an extraordinary achievement and certainly deserving of an innovation award.
So, innovation comes down to who you ask. As the Global Innovation Institute says: “Ultimately, innovation effectiveness has to measure actual, real value delivered to the marketplace (customers) and the innovation–based growth that happens inside of companies as a result of that.”
Who would you nominate as an innovative company based on the above criteria?
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