50 Most Innovative companies of 2014 (via Fast Company)

50 Most Innovative companies of 2014 (via Fast Company)

Fast Company recently published their list of the 50 Most Innovative Companies 2014. Here is an infographic which goes through the winners. Click on it to get the full-size version.

Every year, I like to go through the Fast Company Editor’s picks for who they think the most innovative companies in the world are. This list is chosen by them, not based on company growth, products released or revenue, but rather on companies which they believe are changing the way people work and live and are actually having an impact.

The eagle-eyed among you may immediately spot that the list looks larger than 50 companies. Yes, the Editors actually included a total of 60 companies but gave a number of them joint-ranking places. In some cases they all come from similar industries (such as catering to the growing upper-middle class in China (4 companies in position 24) or making improvements to our food chain (5 companies at position 43). Some readers may consider it cheating, I quite like to see as many companies on the list as possible.

Where the additional value for you lies is if you begin to find trends, to see where the world is going and how it can affect your company. Fast Company also identified the following 12 global innovation trends for 2014:

  1. Exceptional is expected: differentiating yourself based on quality is no longer enough. You need to be executing at a level beyond all of your competitors as this is what the public demand.
  2. Innovation is episodic: If you compare this year’s list to that of 2013 (see more below), you’ll notice that only a handful of companies from last year are still on the list this year. This is because most high-impact innovations take years to develop, and most companies therefore have episodic innovation (apart from the Googles and Amazons which have a multitude of projects running in parallel)
  3. Making Money Matters: Many of the web and app darlings of the past few years quickly lose their appeal when they try to implement a sustainable business model. The companies which made the list this year are very clear on how they make money, and very few are based on advertising. This indicates consumers are becoming more comfortable directly paying for companies which improve their experience.
  4. Sustainability has found a new gear: “Green” companies on the list this year are there because they’ve found a way to make serious money while helping to clean water, reduce waste and generate energy
  5. Unlocking global talent unlocks possibility: companies which bring great minds together (like Kenya’s iHub) are proving effective at fostering entrepreneurship and launching a multitude of new businesses
  6. Passion is underrated: A number of companies started off as communities of passionate people, which eventually got more and more visibility in the mainstream through finding other passionate people
  7. Conflict isn’t required: its possible to successfully innovate in markets which seem calcified by an old institution mentality, like philanthropy, education and architecture.
  8. Happy customers make you happy: Companies which focus on the customer experience more than the product itself are the ones who reap the benefits. (see my previous article on focusing effort on customer experience)
  9. Software beats hardware: more and more of the physical products we buy in the future will be connected, both providing real-time data to improve performance in real-time, and by letting us interact with objects which previously were just “on or off”. Again, it’s about the experience.
  10. “Made in China” is a compliment: Chinese companies and entrepreneurs are beginning to make strides in the world of design, usability and functionality. As more and more role models develop and the industry is forced to keep developing as basic manufacturing moves to areas with cheaper labour, China will continue to focus efforts into developing talent and capabilities further up the value chain.
  11. The biggest winner in the App economy remains Apple: Yes, the iPhone 5S’s fingerprint sensor made it even easier to purchase content, whether it be apps or media. But this point also indicates that the vast majority of app developers are not creating the sustainable business models they hope for. Many people can list off companies with a single “smash hit app”, but will they be able to sustain growth with future releases?
  12. Dreaming big isn’t folly; it’s required: Many of the innovations from some of the heavy industry players may improve performance by a few percentage points, like fuel economy  (GE) or light efficiency (Philips). But these small changes will save companies, individuals and governments Billions of dollars over the coming decade. However, these innovations come after years or even decades of development, and at the time they started they looked like pie-in-the-sky dreams. We need more companies today to invest in these long-term research projects which won’t pay off for years, because when they finally do the impact will be enormous.

So how does this year’s list compare to last year’s. Check out the 2013 infographic below:

Which companies didn’t make the list which you think should have? Let us know in the comments below, and sign up for our weekly Innovation Insights newsletter using the form below to also get a copy of our report on The Secrets of Ongoing Innovation Success.