I was going to start this post by writing that the most innovative company in the world is not Apple...and not Google. But the headline is obviously a spoiler. Yes, the editors of Fast Company declare Nike the most innovative company of 2013 in the magazine's March issue. The perennially cool athletic-gear maker rightly tops Fast Company's annual Most Innovative Companies list because it produced two big hits in the last year: the much-talked about Fuel Band, the $150 device that sits on your wrist and tracks your exercise output, and the ultra-light Flyknit Racer shoes, which are Earth-friendly and cheaper to manufacture than other running footwear. (Oh, and they look sharp.)
Innovative products like these are popular--and profitable. As Fast Company reports, Nike's annual revenue is up 60% (hitting $24 billion) since CEO Mark Parker, pictured above, took the top leadership role in 2006. Profits are up 57%.
After Nike, numbers two and three on Fast Company's list are Amazon, the online retailer/Kindle creator, and Square, the much-talked-about electronic payment services firm. The rest of the list is a wild mix of established brands such as Coca-Cola (14) and Corning (36); predictable upstarts (er, startups) such as Pinterest (8); and refreshing selections outside of the U.S., such as Kenyan telecommunications giant Safaricom (9) and Chinese Internet juggernaut Tencent (16). Apple, by the way, comes in at 13, and Google at 11.
As the editors write, what these companies share in common is that "they offer many lessons that cross industry: social is now a layer for everyone; software is the 'wow' factor; data makes a big difference; and in a world of instant gratification, long-term investment still matters."
The range of companies, old and new, is probably a little subjective -- but wonderful in its sheer timeliness. So what if some of the companies have been around forever and others might not even make headlines in a year or two? As Fast Company Deputy Editor David Lidsky writes in a piece called "Why Facebook and Twitter are not Most Innovative Companies" (neither is on the list),
A spot on MIC, as we call it, is not a tenured position. Every year, we assess innovation and the impact of those initiatives. In the history of our list, fewer than one-third of the companies return from one year to the next. This year, only seven are consecutive honorees, an indication of how more companies in more corners of the world are innovating to seek a competitive edge, with the stakes only getting higher.
And if you want to know why Facebook and Twitter didn't make the cut, Lidsky points out that in the past year, both companies focused more on growth than developing great new ideas. In other words, they were more concerned with making money than engaging in what made them such notable companies in the first place: making groundbreaking products and services.