Jeff Bezos is the CEO of Amazon, one of Gregersen's most innovative companies.

Credit: Steve Jurvetson / Wikimedia Commons

The Most Innovative Names in Business

July 5, 2013

If you were going to rank companies based on innovation, rather than size or net worth, where would you start? Hal Gregersen, co-author of “The Innovator’s DNA” and Forbes’ Most Innovative Companies and professor at INSEAD, shares his methodology.

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How many times have you asked your children: "What did you learn in school today?" Hal Gregersen, co-author of “The Innovator’s DNA, recommends taking a different approach. By encouraging children to look at the world differently and think like entrepreneurs - asking them questions like, "What questions did you ask today? What questions do you still need to ask?" - he says you could be laying the foundation for the next big innovation in business. 

When it comes to the most creative trailblazers in business, Gregersen should know.  Author of Forbes’ Most Innovative Companies, Gregersen believes that in an age of apps and start-ups, traditional ways of measuring a company's success may no longer be the best indicator of influence. A better metric, he says, is innovation: the willingness to take risks, the knack for open communication, and a desire to stay right on the cutting edge.

Amazon's warehouse in Fife, Scotland. Gregersen ranks Amazon and its CEO, Jeff Bezos, at the top of his list of innovators.
Photo Credit: Scottish Government / Flickr Creative Commons

Leaders in Innovation

So which business leaders are willing to take risks? Gregersen ranks Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos near the top. Back in the 1990sBezos noticed the fast growth of the Internet and took a gamble that selling books online would work. Now, decades later, he encourages the same kind of risk taking among his employees.

“He is an experimenter,” Gregersen explains. “Jeff told us, basically, that [his] job as the CEO and founder of this company is to create an environment where not hundreds, but thousands, of experiments flourish … So the whole notion of Amazon’s being able to link different kinds of books to your most recent purchase, or videos, or whatever — that came from an experiment, from an employee just trying something out.”

Cirque du Soleil's innovation comes from their search for new material.
Photo Credit: derekskey / Flickr Creative Commons

Cirque du Soleil also ranked among Gregersen’s most innovative companies. Why? Because it’s founder, Guy Laliberté, is constantly searching for new ideas. While his company is working on one production, Laliberté travels across the world looking for inspiration, constantly communicating his findings to his team at Cirque du Soleil headquarters.

“Guy Laliberté will not do a new show in a new place if it’s a repeat,” Gregersen says. “He only wants to do things that are new and different — so he does this himself.”

Gregersen thinks Akio Toyoda, the CEO of Toyota, may need to do more to promote innovation.
Photo Credit: Moto@Club4AG / Flickr Creative Commons

Taking Time to Innovate

Gregersen’s list also had some losers, including big companies like SamsungHonda and Toyota. Gregersen explains that it’s not that these companies aren’t creative at all — it’s that they aren’t creative enough.

“They haven’t put together new ideas that are fundamentally disruptive and change the terrain,” he argues. “The leaders of those organizations, they simply don’t value innovative actions enough to do it themselves.”

Unfortunately, Gregersen doesn’t have a magic formula for becoming the sort of innovative leader that could bring Samsung, Honda, or Toyota back to the top of the list. But he does recommend one key ingredient: time.

“Ideas that change the terrain and the surface of the world we live in don’t happen overnight,” Gregersen says. But, if you persevere, you could someday top Gregersen's list.

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