Nicholas D. Evans

The world's most innovative companies: Ranking the best of the best innovators

December 10, 2012 9:09 AM EST

Every year, we see a number of publications issue their top 50 lists of the world's most innovative companies. In recent years, there have been rankings issued by Forbes.com, Fast Company, and MIT Technology Review to name just a few. Looking back across 2012, I wanted to find out which companies ranked "Best of the Best Innovators" across all these top 50 lists by combining them to gain a broader perspective that leverages the unique evaluation criteria of each individual study.

Each of the rankings have their own methodology for determining who's on the list. The priorities range from highly complex financial calculations to selections based upon the launch of recent innovations that are having a significant impact across industry and our culture.

It might be argued that, since these methodologies are very different, combining them into a best of the best ranking would be like mixing apples and oranges. The counterpoint to this opinion is that by combining the unique criteria of each ranking we arrive at a broader view of which companies are truly hitting the mark related to innovation across all its varied measures and metrics.

Introducing the "Best of the Best Innovators"

The top 50 companies from each of the three source rankings were studied and combined with a new scoring methodology to form a new "Best of the Best Innovators" ranking. The results include some familiar names, such as Apple, Google, Amazon.com, Facebook and Twitter. In addition, there are a number of newer names that have grabbed the attention of at least two of the three source lists and placed well among their peers, such as Tencent, Square and Life Technologies.

The methodology for the ranking was to award fifty points for 1st place down to one point for 50th place for each of the source lists. Since MIT Technology Review provided a top 50 list without a specific ranking, each company was given a point score of twenty-five. This gave companies who placed within the Technology Review list an advantage over those who did not, without giving any advantage to one company over another. A score of twenty-five was used to ensure that companies that placed anywhere on the Technology Review list (e.g. 40th) were not overly compensated in terms of their score over those who placed highly on the other lists.

Surprisingly only two companies of the entire data set placed on all three source lists (Apple and Google) and only nine companies placed on two of the source lists. The results are presented below together with the point scores from the individual source lists and the overall aggregated score.

 

"Best of the Best Innovators"
Rankings for the World's Most Innovative Companies
  Fast Company Forbes Tech Review Total Points Overall Rank
  Rank Points Rank Points Rank Points    
 

Apple

1

50

5

46

1

25

121

1

Google

3

48

7

44

1

25

117

2

Amazon

4

47

2

49

 

 

96

3

Tencent

8

43

4

47

 

 

90

4

Facebook

2

49

 

 

1

25

74

5

Square

5

46

 

 

1

25

71

6

Twitter

6

45

 

 

1

25

70

7

Life Technologies

9

42

 

 

1

25

67

8

Starbucks

24

27

19

32

 

 

59

9

Siemens AG

21

30

 

 

1

25

55

10

 

Lessons Learned

The lessons learned from the study relate to the prominence of high-tech companies on the list, the difficulty in defining and measuring innovation, and the correlation to financial results.

Firstly, there are a large number of technology-oriented companies, with eight out of ten on the above list. The innovation from these companies, particularly the consumer-facing companies, is very tangible as a product or service innovation that consumers can experience first-hand when compared to say a process innovation within the manufacturing industry. The innovations are often items we may use every day -- Apple devices such as the iPhone and iPad, Google searches, Amazon shopping, and Facebook and Twitter social networks -- not to mention a visit to Starbucks. Siemens also fits into this everyday product category and was the world's top seller of smartphones in 2011. Life Technologies was one of the exceptions with its disruptive innovation in the biomedical field in terms of lowering the cost of DNA sequencing.

Secondly, the fact that only two companies placed on all three source lists, even when we look outside of the top 10, speaks to the fact that there's presently very little agreement on how to define what constitutes innovation or how to measure innovative outcomes. As many have pointed out, this difficulty in measuring and quantifying innovation is not just an issue when ranking innovative companies, but is also a challenge at the industry and national level in terms of measuring the relative levels of innovation coming out of entire sectors, countries and economic regions.

Finally, the bulk of the companies on the top 10 list are household names, recognized by millions of consumers, and are relatively new Web 2.0 companies actively transforming the high-tech landscape. If we look at stock price, these companies have seen their stock price rise by an average of over 20 percent over the past year and, perhaps surprisingly, include just one of the 2011 Fortune 50 (Apple). In terms of the disruptive technologies that are at the heart of these companies' positions on the list, the majority are mobile computing-related, with social computing and cloud computing not far behind.

 

Top 10 "Best of the Best Innovators" -- Key Facts

Geographic Location

8 U.S., 1 China, 1 Germany

Age

Under 35 years (under 20 years for the top eight)

Public Companies

70%

Oldest Company

Founded in 1847 (Siemens)

Average Stock Growth

22% (over 30% for the top four)

Largest Stock Growth

76.70% (Apple)

Key Innovations

Majority mobile computing, followed by social computing and cloud

 

Of course, as with all studies related to innovation, some of the findings raise questions for further exploration. Is there a correlation with number of patents or with other traditional measures of innovation? Is there a common management approach to innovation that helps these companies excel? Will these innovative companies stay innovative for the long-haul or will they become out-innovated over time as they face the threat of becoming slower-moving incumbents themselves as a result of their growth and success? For those that will stay innovative, or have already proven their longevity as an innovator, how do they constantly fuel the innovative cultures within their organizations? How much do they rely on techniques such as open innovation in terms of tapping into innovative ideas from outside the four walls of their organizations?

In summary, there were some of the usual suspects on the "Best of the Best Innovators" list in addition to some surprises. In making the list, it also doesn't hurt if you're a high-tech company with strong brand awareness targeting global consumers with exciting new products and services.