Think about some of the world’s most successful companies. What do they have in common? They might be from different industries, different nations or different time periods, but they share one important quality: innovation.
Innovative businesses have offered the market a product it hasn’t seen before or a novel way of providing a service. Some innovators develop new ways to engage with their employees, while others find better ways to communicate with their customers.
Even established companies seek innovative ways to remain competitive if they want to continue attracting new customers and employees. In the modern world of ever-evolving technology, consumers don’t just appreciate innovation, they demand it.
“Leading companies make innovation a standard, but winning, part of their business approach,” Active Minds chairman and non-executive director Stewart Black told Spencer Stuart.
“In always acting like innovation leaders, they are able to simply exhaust their competition. These competitors spend and waste valuable time and resources first trying to understand the specifics of any given innovation, then working out what it means for them and how they might take action. In the meantime, the innovation leader has already enjoyed the benefits and is working up the next initiative.”
2020 brought with it a heightened need for innovation as companies around the world struggled to continue profitable operations during unprecedented shutdowns and quarantines. In fact, McKinsey & Company found that 90 percent of executives agree the COVID-19 crisis “fundamentally changes the way they do business over the next five years.” But only 21 percent of those surveyed said they had the “expertise, resources and commitment to pursue new growth effectively.”
Innovative response to a medical crisis is complicated, however, because innovation generally requires time for development and planning. According to tech innovator John MacFarlane, who has led companies including Software.com and Sonos, Inc., the secret is encouraging teams to take chances.
“Innovation takes a little bit of room and time,” MacFarlane also told Spencer Stuart. “You mustn’t have a culture where people are penalized for trying something and not being successful. You have to have a culture where you agree in the beginning that you’ll take a risk but you may fail.”
Of course, the chance of failure also brings with it the chance for great success. Companies have responded to the changed environment with innovative products, services, communications and planning.
When Boston Consulting Group determined its top 50 most innovative companies of 2021, it chose companies that prioritize and support innovation through both money and talent, while also transforming those investments into actual results. Likewise, Fast Company selected its list of the world’s 50 most innovative companies by looking “for organizations that embody creative problem-solving and fearlessness in the face of crisis.”
BCG research indicates that when companies continue to invest in innovation during economic downturns – including the kind caused by global pandemics – they outperform the market during periods of recovery. For example, the 50 companies comprising BCG’s most innovative list in 2007 delivered their shareholders 4% higher returns compared to the market during each year through 2012.
The following seven companies are crushing the future of work:
Online shopping options saved a host of brick-and-mortar retailers when the pandemic led to lockdowns. Even those who remained open saw the traffic coming in and out of their business staggeringly drop.
Shopify offered these small businesses the opportunity to launch their online operations overnight when it converted point-of-sale terminals into e-commerce stores. Shopify even went a step further in helping these entrants into the online marketplace succeed when it spotlighted them in its Shop app, allowing users to support their local businesses from the safety of their homes.
When it comes to prompt and timely innovation, Salesforce leads the pack. The tech platform responded to the pandemic by launching its Work.com option in May 2020, just three months after the World Health Organization declared a global health emergency.
The online service helps companies determine the safest ways to return to the office, and it includes an app offering manual contact racing, shift scheduling, employee wellness checks, an employee learning platform and even a command center for business leaders to visualize the data and make insightful decisions for their organizations, their employees and their customers. Later, Salesforce expanded the service to offer tools for improved employee productivity and better communication with remote workers.
The world continues its transition into what is becoming known as the Age of Analytics, and 59% of businesses now use analytics in some way, whether it’s to enable better decision making, predict consumer behavior or better partnerships with other enterprises.
Of course, without ample data and programs to analyze it, there’s nothing from which to draw insights. Snowflake’s innovative platform allows businesses in any market to unlock the power of data. Organizations no longer must rely on complicated and tedious file-based processes to send and receive their data. With Snowflake’s data cloud, users gain secure access to third-party or personalized data from which to draw insight and make better business decisions.
The free PowerPoint-alternative presentation software is changing the way the world presents with innovative tools that help even amateur designers create professional-level slide decks in a fraction of the time.
Users can choose to customize a variety of specialized presentation templates, or they can design their presentations from scratch using Beautiful.ai’s smart slide templates, where artificial intelligence automatically adjusts the design of each slide when content is added, based on the principles of good design used by the pros. Plus, because the software is cloud-based, users can access their decks from anywhere and invite their team to collaborate.
Netflix began its journey as pure innovation. After all, before the grandfather of streaming made its debut in 1997, movie lovers hadn’t imagined they’d leave behind the storied shelves of Blockbuster and local movie rental locations, nor had they considered physical DVDs, BluRay disks or other mediums would become practically obsolete within just a few years.
Now that Netflix has strong competition, how is the company innovating? Netflix made our list of innovative companies thanks to its focus on reaching its Black audiences. In the wake of George Floyd’s death and following nationwide protests, Netflix’s Strong Black Lead marketing team featured content specifically targeted toward Black voices and experiences. The company now offers the largest selection of Black programming of the top streaming services.
Asana was named an innovative company of 2021 because its SaaS platform helped remote teams improve their collaboration efforts, while managing projects and tasks. Teams can use both web and mobile applications to create projects, assign tasks to team members, set deadlines and even communicate with one another all from a single platform.
In 2020 Asana launched Asana Goals, which helps teams prioritize their most important tasks as they track and manage goals. Asana also offered 12 free months of its Asana Business service for qualifying nonprofits that were battling the pandemic from the front lines.
When lockdowns commenced in 2020, and companies scrambled to get their employees ready for remote work, communication became a concern. After all, relying solely on written communication eliminates so many nonverbal cues that messages can become lost in translation.
Twilio provided a solution for dispersed workforces by enabling voice, text, chat, video and email communications in a single platform. Use of Twilio’s omnichannel platform doubled during the pandemic, even as the company continued to innovate. The company received expedited HIPAA certification, which opened up the platform for much of the healthcare industry.