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Presenting the 50 Most Innovative Companies

You won't find Bernie Madoff in these pages. Or talk of another Great Depression. You won't find unemployment statistics or the word "bailout." We may discuss those topics in another issue, but this month, we pass.

It's not that we have our heads in the sand. We know how challenging the business environment is. In fact, that's exactly why we've tried to make this issue as upbeat and bursting with potential as we can. The one incontrovertible truth about this era: Only creativity and aggressive innovation — in the face of hardship and layoffs and seriously tough choices — will fuel a turnaround.

To construct our list of the world's most innovative companies, we searched for examples of success and strength (of character as well as finances). How has online video site Hulu managed to thrive with mutually hostile parents NBC and Fox? How did Pure Digital Technologies grab 23% of the camcorder market in 18 months? How has NextEra become the nation's No. 1 producer of green energy — and grown earnings at double-digit rates in the face of recession and an energy-market swoon? And how has a multiracial community organizer with the middle name Hussein become the most powerful person on the planet?

There are lessons and inspiration in all of our Fast Company 50, our 33 Companies to Watch, and the 76 other companies included in our category-by-category top 10 lists. We as a country are paying the price for an era when financial engineering counted more than breakthrough products and services. We were deluded by ephemeral and unsustainable growth figures, lost track of our long-term priorities, and embraced the idea that size equaled safety. We were wrong.

But if you look around, there is also much to cheer about. In the midst of our troubles, remarkable things have happened, and they will continue to happen — if we prune the unproductive and broken, and nurture those enterprises that point to a more positive future. With this year's package of Most Innovative Companies, even more than in the past, we wanted to illustrate just how powerful and effective business can be when it is led wisely, motivated appropriately, and directed toward inventiveness.

Today, in this magazine, it is cheering season. You might even decide to cheer along.

A version of this article appeared in the March 2009 issue of Fast Company magazine.