Innovation: It’s Not Always What You Think It Is

Posted by Chuck Kocher
On August 3, 2015

Innovation-it's-not-always-what-you-think-it-isNot long ago, Forbes published a list of The World’s Most Innovative Companies. You can check out the entire list here, and read up on who’s who (according to Forbes) in the world of innovation. But I found a quick glance at the top 10 companies on this list to be a little bit eye opening.

When you think of innovative companies, what kind of companies come to mind? I’d venture to guess that the majority of us think—at least at first blush—of high-tech companies. Not surprisingly, those companies are well represented in the Forbes list. Here’s the top 10 of their Top 100 Most Innovative Companies:

  1. Salesforce.com: Software & Programming
  2. Alexion Pharmaceuticals: Biotechs
  3. ARM Holdings: Semiconductors
  4. Unilever Indonesia: Household Products
  5. Regeneron Pharmaceuticals: Biotechs
  6. com: Internet & Catalog Retail
  7. BioMarin Pharmaceutical: Biotechs
  8. CP All: Food Retail
  9. VMware: Software & Programming
  10. Aspen Pharmacare Holdings: Pharmaceuticals

What struck me about this list is who else (besides high tech companies) is represented. Biotech companies are perhaps not a big surprise, but right there in the middle of all these “techies” are companies that deal in household products, catalog retail, and food retail.

Those aren’t industries we think of as particularly innovative. And that’s exactly the point. Innovation isn’t about technology. It’s about creative thinking. Did Amazon.com take advantage of technology? Absolutely! But that’s not what made them successful. What they did was take an ordinary everyday activity (catalog shopping) and stood it on its head. They made it faster, easier, cheaper, and more convenient. In short, they made the experience better. They delivered more value—and they are reaping the rewards.

If your company isn’t in an industry that’s considered cutting edge or groundbreaking, you may be tempted to think that innovation doesn’t matter. But if you want to stand out from the crowd, leave your competition behind, and grow dramatically, you need to be innovative. Figure out what it is that customers want when they come to you (or to your competitors) and find a better (faster, cheaper, more convenient, more satisfying) way to give it to them.

Innovation isn’t always what you think it is. It’s not about technology. It’s about finding a better way to do something that delivers more value.