The March issue of Fast Company came out this week and in it was a list of the World's 50 Most Innovative Companies. Now, I like a good list and I particularly like this one. The list of the World's 50 Most Innovative Companies is compiled based on expert opinion, data, reports, interviews and debate. More importantly, the list gives "a snapshot of creativity at work in the global market place."
When you skim through the top 50, there are some companies you would expect to find on such a list - for example, Facebook, Amazon, Apple and Google took the top 4 spots. A number of other high-profile companies were also on the top 50: HP, Hulu, Netflix, Nike, Intel, GE, IBM, and Disney.
But there were others that really captured my attention - for example, First Solar and PG&E for their work in sustainability and renewables.
Others would be pleased to find themselves on the list - for example, Wal-Mart at #9. For a long time, Wal-Mart positioned itself as excelling in cost leadership and was well regarded for its excellence in supply chain management. But Wal-Mart is now making inroads into sustainability by working with its 100,000 suppliers and encouraging them to "go green". A number of years ago, Wal-Mart tried to have the same impact on supply chain management with the introduction of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags by mandating their suppliers had to comply with Wal-Mart's RFID requirements. The use of RFID tags never took off as predicted (I've been told it is because the price of RFID tags never really dropped). Let's hope that Wal-Mart can succeed in their efforts to impact sustainable business practices because without an organization with the clout of Wal-Mart, many managers might have been slower to grasp the concept of sustainability and determine what it means for their organization.
There is another characteristic that defines the inclusion of many firms on the top 50 list. Many have had a substantial impact on the way in which the markets behave. Hulu (#11) and Netflix (#12), for example, are both altering the way in which consumers access TV and movies. The impact of Netflix, with its 11m subscribers who have accessed 2.5b DVDs, Blu-ray discs and video streams since Netflix launched in 1999, has already altered the structure of the industry by making traditional video rental stores an endangered species. Or Patients Like Me (#23), a website that allows you to click on a symptom and connect with others who have the same symptom, identify treatment options and talk to other patients about their experiences. What a great example of peer-to-peer communication and, again, a service that has the potential to change consumer behavior - this time, with respect to how we find health related information. Here's another one: Sportsvision (#34), a service that captures and analyzes sports movement and provides data that on the ability of a player - how fast the player moves, the player's offensive ability and reaction time, etc. Very soon, this type of data will infuse Monday morning water cooler discussions about sports games.
Every now and then I stop to reflect upon different iterations of products I have used to satisfy different needs - e.g., listening to music on vinyl records and cassettes, to CDs, to the iPod or making phone calls through a switchboard operator using a phone that shared a party line with three other families, through to Skype. I often feel that when an innovation is successful, I can't imagine life without it. I feel like that about many of the companies that made the top-50 list. For me, I can't imagine life without Google or Netflix. Soon, I will probably add the Apple iPad to the list. I wonder what else I will add to my own "can't live without it" list in five years time.
Jenny Darroch is on the faculty at the Drucker School at Claremont Graduate University. She is an expert on marketing strategies that generate growth. See www.MarketingThroughTurbulentTimes.com