What we can learn from the world’s most innovative companies

Many companies these days say that they are ‘innovative’, but I have believed for a long time that true innovation is a lot harder to come across. It takes something special to change things through thinking differently and courageously, which comparatively few companies have built themselves around. That’s why I was drawn to Fast Company’s list of 2013’s most innovative companies. Not only does it pay tribute to traditional powerhouses of innovation, such as Apple and Amazon, but it also draws attention to some up-and-coming businesses, in very different sectors, that are making waves in their fields.

The first thing to say is that companies that have prided themselves on innovative thinking are still at the top of the list. Google takes the top spot, with Fast Company paying tribute to radical new initiatives such as the firm’s experimentation with driverless cars as well as its history in web search. A short way behind are Apple and Amazon, two behemoths who are remaining relevant by providing consumers with new ideas and schemes to enjoy all the time – the iPhone’s Touch ID identification system gets a reference, as does Amazon’s drone delivery programme which got so much publicity towards the end of last year. Fast Company have shown that the big beasts are still capable of holding off their many competitors!

One way in which the list does throw up some surprises, though, is by including several different companies from developing economies. From China’s booming young smartphone giant Xiaomi to the Universal Identification Authority of India – specialising in verifiable ID systems for online payments – the list is by no means exclusive to established global innovation centres like California or London. As well as this, the firms represent vastly different business sectors, with the cloud tech of Dropbox standing right next to the charitable endeavours of Bloomberg Philanthropies. This is in part down to the increasing globalisation of business and the growing influence of new territories in pushing fresh developments. But, more than anything, I think it indicates that there is no set formula for innovation – if it is good enough and bold enough, it can come from anyone, anywhere.

Accompanying the Fast Company list is a shorter piece on specific individuals from featured companies, along with some trends their actions have signified. One such section is dedicated to ‘Poachers’, or companies that have accelerated their progress from savvy, judicious hiring. One such appointment was Google’s recruitment of star engineer Blaise Agüera y Arcas from Microsoft, who is quoted in the article as saying: “I believe in competition – it’s a race to some degree.” With companies at the top of their game seeking to progress further and faster than ever, getting the right person for the right job in such a competitive market is becoming more and more important – something to bear in mind!

I’m sure you’ll agree that Fast Company’s list is an excellent run-down of the firms that are contributing most to global innovation. But who, in your opinion, do you think has missed out? Let me know at moira@thembsgroup.co.uk, and have a brilliant weekend.