Saturday, April 10, 2010


50 Most Innovative Companies?

Technology Review magazine's listing of the world's most innovative companies has just arrived (see For the first time I am not going to rant about lists of "most innovative" that don't have the criteria for selection or the definition of innovation! You may disagree with the TR editors' definitions, but at least they have them.

Innovative companies: demonstrated superiority (that implies some measurement method that is not detailed) at inventing technology and using it both to grow the business and to transform how we live.

I'll take issue with the dual requirement, and use trivial cases to demonstrate the point:

1. Suitcases with wheels transformed how we live, and put a whole class of porters and baggage handling people out of business. The "technology" involved was nil (using skateboard wheels) - the big change was in marketing, using (male) pilots to show male business travelers that wheeled cases were acceptable.

2. Curved shower curtain rods have, in a modest way, changed the comfort level of our bathing experience, and the "technology" change is nil. This is a nice demonstration of the TRIZ principle of migrating a technology from one field to another, but not of creating a new technology. It is a favorite TRIZ teaching case because curving the rod uses 2 of the 40 principles (17- dimensionality change and 14 - increase curvature) and demonstrates how one improvement can cause the need for others (attachment to the wall has to change, for the early designs)

In both cases, there was technology development, 10-30 years previously, in another industry, for another reason, paid for by another company for its own reasons. And yet there was impact on the way consumers live, and creation of profitable business.

The article has a fascinating selection of companies and technologies, and businesses ranging from some of the biggest to relatively small. I suggest reading it with the idea that the technologies being honored are usually doing one specific thing for their could you migrate that technology to a different field, and do more things for different customers? Thermoelectric SI chip cooling, integrated photonic circuits, superconducting power cables, yeast that makes biofuel (didn't we have this 3000 years ago, and called it wine-making?)...

Let me know what you think.

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