Boston Consulting Group just published its annual (since 2004) ranking of the 50 most innovative companies in the world. BCG polled 1,500 executives and asked them to rank companies by innovation. More importantly (from my perspective), BCG asked the executives about their company’s plans, strategies, and tactics regarding innovation. You can find the entire report here. I’ll summarize some of the key findings below.
Perhaps the most important finding is that investment in innovation has recovered from the turmoil of the recession. Seventy-six percent of executives said that innovation is a “top three” priority — the highest level in the survey’s history. And they’re putting their money where their mouth is — 69% said they plan to increase spending on innovation in 2013, the highest level in six years. Further, companies that emphasize innovation tend to generate superior total shareholder returns (TSR). The most innovative companies of 2012 generated TSR premiums (compared to less innovative companies in the same sector) of 6.3% over three years and 3.5% over ten years.
How did these companies become so innovative? BCG identifies six key factors:
Get customers involved early — innovative companies get customers involved to generate new ideas and to separate the wheat from the chaff. One of the key reasons to involve customers is to ensure that weaker projects “fail fast and fail cheap”.
Use data to drive tough decision making — it’s hard to make tradeoffs among promising projects. Which ones will succeed? Which ones will simply be distractions? The most innovative companies allow executives to make firm decisions for “the right reasons on the basis of the right data”.
Think strategically about tradeoffs — “Best practice companies do not make [tradeoff] decisions in reference to last year’s budget but rather on the basis of the size of future opportunities.”
Ensure senior leadership commitment — “The most commonly cited force driving innovation was the CEO.” I don’t mean to brag but this is exactly what I found in my dissertation, a study of innovation in colleges and universities in 1984. It’s the person at the top who sets the innovation culture.
Envision innovation as a holistic system — don’t just try to optimize one piece of the puzzle. Create a strong vision for the need for innovation throughout the company and then build the enablers, including culture, processes, and organization.
Optimize intellectual property to create value — lots of companies have bright people. The most innovative companies also have collaborative processes and decision rules to create and capitalize on intellectual property.