For the ninth year in a row, Boston Consulting Group (BCG) has published its ranking of the 50 most innovative companies in the world. In 2012, the big news was that companies were recovering from the recession and starting to invest in innovation again.
Last year, the big news was that automotive companies were moving onto and up the list. Nine of the top 20 were automotive companies as were three of the top ten – Toyota, Ford, and BMW. Alas, the automotive innovation trend seems to have been short lived. The number of automakers on the list dropped from 14 in 2013 to nine in 2014. Of these nine, only two had moved up from the previous year: Tesla and Fiat. We learned from Rita Gunther McGrath that you can’t just turn on the innovation engine when you need it and turn it off when you don’t – but that seems to be exactly what the automakers are doing.
Software, computer, and social media companies continue to dominate the top end of the list. The top three remain Apple, Google, and Samsung though the order has changed slightly. Apple remains number one but Google has leapfrogged Samsung into the second slot.
What can we learn from this year’s list? First, the importance of culture. Second, an appreciation for three specific behaviors that promote innovation and coincide nicely with academic research on innovation.
Creating a culture of innovation requires consistency, discipline, investment, and leadership. As we learned last year, Samsung’s cultural mantra seems to be, “Change everything but your spouse and your children.” That’s a commitment that few companies are willing to make. As BCG points out, even the “breakthrough” companies that lead the innovation wave assess themselves as being little better than average.
Creating an innovation culture also requires some tolerance for failure. Not every good idea is going to pan out. Strong innovative cultures typically have the willpower to pull the plug quickly and learn from their mistakes. When failures happen, most companies will investigate the immediate problem. Innovative companies will also investigate the process that led to the problem.
Innovative cultures also tend to have a strong customer focus. They understand how customers behave and why. As BCG points out, they release “…products that customers will embrace rather than pushing new technologies simply because they are novel.”
On three points, breakthrough innovators differ significantly from strong (but not breakthrough) innovators:
So what can we learn? Innovation requires tenacity and consistent commitment. Professional athletes used to go fishing during the offseason. Now they work out relentlessly to stay in shape. So do innovative companies.
Last week, I wrote about which countries are the most innovative. (Hint: Switzerland and Sweden topped the list). This week, let’s discuss which companies are the most innovative.
Boston Consulting Group (BCG) just published their eighth annual compilation of the most innovative companies in the world. BCG collected data from 1,500 executives and rated and ranked the 50 companies that are deemed the most innovative.
Innovation continues to be a very high profile objective. Over three-fourths (77%) of the respondents noted that innovation was among the top three strategic imperatives for their respective companies. This is a steady upward trend since a low point of 64% in 2009, when companies presumably had other things on their mind. This trend seems to match a similar “return to innovation” trend at the national level.
So which companies are the most innovative? Apple continues to claim the top spot but Samsung has leapfrogged over Google to stake a strong number two position. Samsung has built an innovation culture around the slogan, “Change everything but your spouse and your children.” As BCG reports, building a culture that emphasizes and accepts change is one of the keys to success.
High tech companies take six of the top ten positions. In addition to Apple, Samsung, and Google in the top three slots, Microsoft is fourth, IBM is sixth, and Amazon is seventh.
The presence of top tech companies is not a big surprise. The bigger surprise for me was that three car companies vaulted into the top 10: Toyota is fifth, Ford is eighth, and BMW is ninth. Perhaps even more impressive is that car companies accounted for nine of the top 20 slots. GM is 13th, VW is 14th, and Hyundai, Honda, Audi, and Daimler take positions 17 through 20.
BCG suggests that three major factors are pushing the car companies towards greater innovation. First, “…manufacturers are racing to meet higher fuel-efficiency standards”. Second, many companies are investigating and experimenting with electric vehicles. Third, “…safety standards continue to rise”.
What causes companies to be innovative? Based on this year’s crop of leaders, BCG notes that there are five critical factors. I’ll write more about these in the future but here’s a first take: