When Fast Company released its Worl'd's 50 Most Innovative Companies list for 2013, the companies of the world in general, and the retail industry in particular might have been rather surprised to find that the one company in any industry in the whole wide world that was judged as the business "whose innovations are having the greatest impact across their industry and our culture as a whole" is a company that just celebrated its 49th anniversary - Nike.
A running shoe company. Greatest impact on culture as a whole. Of any company in the world. Really. Fast Company. Justify that pick. Just do it.
Yes, Nike (NKE) is commonly recognized as one of the most valuable brands in the world. And yes, Nike is recognized as being one of the world's most responsible green companies. But outside the world of sports, does the rest of the world perceive Nike as being THE most innovative company in any industry in any country?
As an explanation for why Nike was chosen as the World's Most Innovative Company, Fast Company focuses on Nike's Digital Sport division. The fact that Nike has something called a Digital Sport Division is a definite sign that Nike has embraced innovation in a real way at a high level and is willing to put its money behind the effort to stay in the cutting edge of things. That does deserve recognition.
Fast Company also then justifies its choice of Nike as "world's most innovative company" by outlining four Nike rules for innovation. It's not really clear that these are actually Nike's rules, or if they are Fast Company's interpretation of what Nike's unwritten rules are based on what's been observed to be going on inside Nike Inc. Either way they are plausible rules for innovation.
For example, "Rule #1" is defined as "To disrupt, you must go all-in." The Nike examples given for that are two newly developed products, the FuelBand and the Flyknit Racer, both of which were great at a conceptual level, but required engineering well beyond the scope of what Nike was already doing, or had the talent to create. Anecdotally when Nike decision-makers decided the concept was worth pursuing, they were "all-in" and did whatever it took to make the concept a reality, even if it meant going outside of their own company to get what they needed.
My interpretation of "going all in" from my consulting work with retail organizations would be reworded into this Rule #1 - You Gotta Get Your Buts Out of the Way.
Whenever I am consulting with companies about innovating in some way, they are always keen to achieve some desired outcome until the point where we identify the specific ways in which change must occur in order to achieve the desired outcome. Then the yeah-buts begin.
Yeah, but... we would need buy-in from the blah-de-blah department. Yeah, but... it would mean we would need to change this system that we've been using for umpteen years. Yeah, but... We will never get approval from executive hot-shot-so-and-so. Yeah but... that would mean we would need to do something that we've never done in our bojillion year history. Yeah but... that would cost money. And the most terrifying yeah-but that can kill just about any new idea... Yeah but... it might not even work.
And then innovation dies. But still one more yeah-but is needed to make sure that the innovation coffin is closed and sealed for a really long time... Yeah, but... the way we're doing it now is working (okay, acceptable, not-so-bad, not intolerable, not going to kill us), so we probably shouldn't mess with it.
The innovative leaders of the companies on the leading edge of innovation are always the ones who get their yeah-buts out of the way and "just do it" anyway. So, in that way, it is easy to give Nike global innovation recognition for putting into practice its own marketing slogan and showing the businesses of the world that branding is more than just fabricating an image. It is possible to actually BE what you want people to believe that you are.
Nike has three other rules for innovation, according to Fast Company, all of which are well explained, but the question is still whether the sum total of that makes Nike THE company in the world that with the greatest "impact on culture as a whole." If Nike was doing something that was having a measurable positive impact on the worldwide obesity epidemic, that would be one thing. And while their Fuel Band product might help with that, it is still at its essence a product designed to create loyalty to the Nike brand more than anything else. But then again, I guess it's all in how the Fast Company team has chosen to define "impact."
Ostensibly, the way Fast Company has ranked the 2013 Most Innovative Companies list, using a methodology that's... click for the end of the article >>