Is innovation dead?
From some angles, it might look that way. Many of the companies we expect to churn out breakthrough technologies are instead, and rightly, focused on rebuilding trust with their employees, customers, and local communities. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a post that he spent almost all of last year on issues regarding free speech, privacy, and well-being. (For more on Facebook’s privacy woes, check out Shoshana Zuboff’s probing essay.) It is hard to imagine he’s had much time to code or plot new products.
But look closer, as Fast Company did in researching our 12th annual Most Innovative Companies list, and you’ll see that the innovative spark remains strong–just elsewhere. Alnylam Pharmaceuticals, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is making it easier for physicians to address previously untreatable hereditary conditions. Alibaba’s Hema stores in China marry digital and brick-and-mortar experiences in ways that make Amazon’s Go stores seem quaint. As Deputy Editor David Lidsky, who produced the rankings with Senior Editor Amy Farley, notes: “Established players are showing the same kind of nimbleness that we’ve generally associated with startups.” Disney and the NBA, for example, are reorganizing themselves to get closer to their customers, and Target is developing billion-dollar house brands.
In fact, we at Fast Company are so sure that key developments are unfolding at companies of all sizes that we just launched a new editorial program, in collaboration with Accenture, called Best Workplaces for Innovators. This list, which will be published in our September issue, will highlight businesses enabling their employees to pursue groundbreaking ideas through cultures that reward people for creativity, risk taking, and acumen. (More information on how to be considered for the list may be found here.)
Innovation will also be on the agenda at the first gathering of the Fast Company Impact Council, on April 17–18. The group, newly formed this year, is an invitation-only collection of founders and CEOs of high-growth companies, creative executives, rising corporate stars, and others who will lend their collective wisdom to our coverage throughout 2019 and beyond. Fast Company begins its 25th year in November, and ongoing discussions with this group of exceptional leaders will ensure that our content remains forward-looking and relevant to a new generation of readers. (To learn more, check out the council website.)
Indeed, as I look through old copies of Fast Company ahead of this 25th birthday, I’m struck by how much has changed. Some of the early issues seemed to treat innovators like rare, almost mythical creatures. We still apply a high standard when using the word, but I would argue we’re much less reverential. It’s further evidence that innovation isn’t dead–it just looks a lot different than it used to.