The latest list of world’s top 50 most innovative companies from Fast Company reveals that exceptional business growth and breakthrough innovation is about thinking big and a powerful vision of business leaders. 

This who-is-who list of global game changers and disruptors is a powerful lesson in how an interesting purpose, ignited by thought leadership and leverage by technology, can transform old and create new industries.

While technology has always been behind major innovations and transformations, this list demonstrates the increasingly important role of values and the bigger picture in business success.

CEOs of consistently best performing companies realise that innovation is the organisation’s ability to create new and profitable growth. And the paradox of this ability is that the more economic rewards are delivered through innovation, the more the company is further rewarded by the smartest investors, best staff, and of course, loyal Customers. The freshly released Fast Company’s list of ‘The World’s 50 Most Innovative Companies’   provides fascinating insights for wiring business for innovation.

The list’s revolving doors seem to accelerate with the speed corresponding with the pace of business today: 70% of nominated companies this year are newcomers, compared to 60% in 2010; and only three of LY’s new entrants – Huawei, Netflix and Twitter – have made the list again.

Clearly, just as having one hit does not prove star quality musical talent, making the list once doesn’t prove enduring innovation capability.

On the other, a handful of companies consistently feature on the list or return after a year or two of sabbatical leave when they were re-grouping and finding their innovation mojo again. Most of them are less than twenty years old, but some are old, iconic brands, that have continued to re-invent themselves, well beyond new product development.

Coco Chanel once said “I don’t want to innovate all the time. I want to create classics.’ The great Dame of fashion was not lazy or lacked creativity. She understood that it is the system, not the product itself, that ensures business longevity.

So what makes a company enduringly innovative?

One such company is IDEO. It has featured on the Fast Company as well as the Business Week list for five years in a row among other stayers: Apple, Google, GE, IBM, Nike, Intel. IDEO’s growing list of clients and expanding scope of work, into services and business and government systems design, are point in case: they are onto a secret of how to create classics.

What has enabled IDEO to morph seamlessly from a classical product design company to a leader in services and business model design?

The source of consistent wins, be it sport, art or business, is not a random thing. It is a consciously applied system that makes the company unique and allows it to re-invent itself to stay alive and prosper.

As Steve Jobs once said, “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.”  While this may have been a message on a personal level, it also means that a company cannot adopt someone else’s business model. True innovation is seeing possibilities in what is plainly visible but nobody else can see.

Andy Grove built semiconductor powerhouse Intel on several principles, two of which were “only the paranoid survive” and “constructive confrontation.” That means never rest on your laurels, continually challenge your own assumptions, and always question the status quo. And yes, Intel is one of the companies still on the list.

Our take on IDEO’s secret of evolving, consistent innovation success is this:

  • Pay attention to your process, don’t do things automatically
  • Apply Design Thinking to problems to design new services, processes and culture
  • Consider the three parts of Design Thinking with focus on ‘desirability’, what humans deeply need and want
  • There are major opportunities today in exploring the human factor

What’s your takeaway?

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