Who’s Really Innovative?

Business Week and Fast Company’s 2010 Top 10 innovative company rankings agreed on only 3 companies: Apple, Google, and Amazon. So why aren’t these lists more similar?

Management author Gary Hamel says that innovation rankings struggle to compare different types of creativity. That’s like trying to rank athletic stars of different sports. It just can’t be done.

What does help in determining who’s really innovative is to distinguish between the 5 distinct types of innovators:

  1. Tyros – Young companies based on wacky business models. Think: Hulu
  2. Nobel Laureates – Consistent innovators that spend billions on R&D. Think: Novartis
  3. Artistes – Creativity is their business. Think: IDEO
  4. Cyborgs – Built to achieve superhuman feats of innovation. Think: Google
  5. Born Agains – Have reinvented themselves from the inside out. Think: IBM

Here’s the message: Understand what kinds of companies excel at what kinds of innovation, and learn from those that are like you. Meanwhile, remove your own barriers to innovation. Hamel cites some common ones such as too few employees trained as innovators, and innovative performance not tied to top management compensation. Your company may never make the world’s Top 10 list, but even a little more innovation than your competitors can make a big difference.

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