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Fast Company Editor’s Message on Innovation

As I promised last week, I want to spend some time today on the Fast Company Editor’s Message that prefaced the 50 Most Innovative Companies list. He (Robert Safian) shares 20 lessons that he learned from making the list. It is this kind of metacognitive ability that makes for a good magazine editor, as well as a lot of other abilities. I want to touch on the few that resonated with me the most.

We wanted to assemble the most accomplished innovators and doers in the four-year history of our global readers’ challenge.

First, he notes that innovation requires both inspiration and execution. For innovation, I prefer to use the terms divergent thinking and convergent thinking. But the message is important. Innovation requires the ability to come up with lots of different ideas, putting them together in some new way, and then focusing the design on something that potential users/customers will really want.

Second, he notes that some innovations require speed while others require gestation. I found this to be quite interesting in light of the “launch early/fix later” permanent Beta model that many startups operate under. While he agrees that this is sometimes warranted, he also stresses the importance of letting some ideas stew around in the design team’s mind for a while.

Another of his insights is one that we recently covered here, the potential of values-based business models. These get users something that they value, profit for the company, but also support a greater good that makes them somehow special compared to other business models. There is a lot of tangible value in achieving social value. For the organization and for society at large.

Another valuable business model that he mentions is ripe for innovation is the coopetition model. Companies have to be careful not to veer into unfair competition or collusion, but outside of this, the potential is real. John Hagel is one of the world’s leading experts in the ecosystem model, which is coopetition at the grandest level. These are worth learning about and then trying for yourself. Whether you are a freelancer sharing referrals or a supplier developing a more tightly linked supply chain.

Finally, he mentions that physical retail spaces are going through fundamental changes to compete with online retail. Online has many advantages in terms of time (no driving or parking required), logistics costs (no store inventories), and variety of offerings (think Amazon). The only advantages of bricks and mortar retail are the ability to physically experience products before purchasing them and the instant gratification of taking items home right away. As technology shrinks both of these advantages, physical retail is going to need to find some new advantages. I can’t wait to see what they come up with.

Your Turn

What insights would you add to this list about innovation and what makes an organization innovative? I think this can be a very dynamic and valuable conversation for all of us.

Image Credit: Drew Coffman

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