How to cre­ate a bet­ter world—and stay ahead—in times of change.

Fast Company - - Contents - By Robert Safian

I got my first glimpse of Ap­ple’s new­est prod­uct as the sun was com­ing up. It was just af­ter 7 a.m. on a Wed­nes­day in Jan­uary, two days af­ter Ap­ple ex­ec­u­tives, in­clud­ing CEO Tim Cook, be­gan mov­ing into Ap­ple Park, the com­pany’s new space­ship-like head­quar­ters in Cu­per­tino. As I was es­corted around the gleam­ing struc­ture, it oc­curred to me that it em­bod­ied ev­ery­thing Ap­ple’s prod­ucts rep­re­sent: a glimpse of the fu­ture, and yet also some­thing fa­mil­iar—not sci­ence fic­tion, but a tan­gi­ble vi­sion made real.

When I sat down with Cook a while later, in a con­fer­ence room la­beled sim­ply ceo, he talked about how cen­tral “hu­man­ity” is to Ap­ple’s prod­ucts, how tech specs and sil­i­con ad­vance­ments only mat­ter if they en­able users to im­prove their lives.

Ap­ple has long been an icon of in­no­va­tion. In an age of rapid change, what’s re­mark­able has been the com­pany’s stay­ing power. This year, it re­turns to the No. 1 rank­ing on our an­nual Most In­no­va­tive Com­pa­nies list. Ap­ple is the only busi­ness to have passed our ed­i­tors’ cri­te­ria to make the list ev­ery year since 2008. Which does not mean that the com­pany hasn’t hit road­blocks along the way; in fact, Cook was quite can­did that in­no­va­tion rarely un­folds in a straight line. While many out­fits as­pire to em­u­late Ap­ple’s sys­tem, it’s the com­pany’s adapt­abil­ity that truly sets it apart. Ap­ple’s cul­ture com­bines in­tense ef­fort, high stan­dards, and a will­ing­ness to forge new paths, even if those paths may threaten the com­pany’s ex­ist­ing prod­ucts. Who else would get rid of disk drives that were cen­tral to per­sonal com­put­ers? Or head­phone jacks? Or a home but­ton on a cell phone, as Ap­ple has with the iphone X? (My Q&A with Cook be­gins on page 22.)

This year’s Most In­no­va­tive Com­pa­nies cov­er­age is filled with in­spir­ing ex­am­ples of cre­ativ­ity, dis­ci­pline, and pos­i­tive change. It is our most ro­bust edi­tion ever, in­clud­ing top 10 lists in 36 cat­e­gories, drawn from a re­search pool of thou­sands of com­pa­nies all across the globe. (Many or­ga­ni­za­tions nom­i­nated them­selves through a new sub­mis­sion process this year.) What fol­lows are 13 lessons that I com­piled from this data set. Con­sider it a road map for the year ahead, a snapshot of what mat­ters most in 2018’s fast­mov­ing in­no­va­tion econ­omy. 1. DON’T LOOK DOWN . . . Ap­ple doesn’t ob­sess about its stock price, Cook says. Fo­cus­ing on what he calls the “90day clock” of quar­terly earn­ings re­ports dis­tracts from long-term strate­gies and in­vest­ments that are ac­tu­ally the source of Ap­ple’s suc­cess. In­stead, the com­pany is al­ways look­ing out, to­ward the fu­ture. This may sound sur­pris­ing, given the bang-bang pres­sures of to­day’s mar­ket­place and Ap­ple’s con­sis­tent his­tory of at-leas­t­an­nual prod­uct re­leases. But the dead­lines that mat­ter, Cook says, come from in­ter­nal ex­pec­ta­tions. There is a bal­ance be­tween speed—a need and de­sire to keep im­prov­ing—and pa­tience: a de­ter­mi­na­tion to never re­lease a prod­uct that falls short of self-de­fined stan­dards for ex­cel­lence and ad­vance­ment. 2 . . . . BUT WATCH YOUR STEP. No­tably ab­sent from this year’s list are Ap­ple’s fel­low tech giants Al­pha­bet and Face­book. That’s be­cause both, in dif­fer­ent ways, found them­selves over their skis this year— and stum­bled. Nei­ther one would de­scribe them­selves as sup­port­ers of fake news or bi­ased, hate-in­fused con­tent, yet they did not do enough to pro­tect them­selves or their users. Busi­nesses to­day can­not hide from the con­se­quences of their ac­tions, even if those con­se­quences are un­in­tended. The rate of ex­e­cu­tion so prized by com­pa­nies with en­gi­neer­ing cul­tures may need to be mod­u­lated: We now know that fix­ing the prob­lem af­ter the fact, as live test­ing re­quires, can carry a sig­nif­i­cant cost. 3. RE­SPON­SI­BIL­ITY IS IN THE MIR­ROR. Ev­ery busi­ness can be a plat­form for cul­tural im­pact, and not sim­ply through siloed cor­po­rate so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity pro­grams. Patag­o­nia has had an ex­cep­tional year— fi­nan­cially, as well as in the realm of pub­lic opin­ion—be­cause it has leaned into en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivism. “Do­ing good work for the planet cre­ates new mar­kets and makes [us] more money,” ex­plains CEO Rose Mar­cario, who has in­vested in new re­cy­cling and sus­tain­able-ma­te­ri­als ini­tia­tives while also challenging var­i­ous gov­ern­ment poli­cies (page 32). CVS (page 38) has thrived by re­mov­ing prod­ucts with “chem­i­cals of con­cern” from its shelves, as well as un­healthy classes of food. 4. TRANS­PARENCY ISN’T RAD­I­CAL. Why would a com­pany will­ingly disclose its profit mar­gin on each item it sells? Be­cause Ever­lane (page 78) isn’t em­bar­rassed about what con­sumers will find out, and that in turn puts pres­sure on ev­ery­one else to be more open. Brand­less (page 101) has con­nected with buy­ers by

es­chew­ing the overt sto­ry­telling of tra­di­tional con­sumer pack­aged goods, in fa­vor of clear, sim­ple la­bels— and lower-than-thecom­pe­ti­tion pric­ing.

5. DI­VER­SITY IS OP­POR­TU­NITY.

Mar­vel Stu­dios (page 40) has re­in­forced its lead­ing po­si­tion by bet­ting on new kinds of he­roes. Netflix (page 30) has made it a pri­or­ity to ap­peal to kids in Bangkok on mo­tor­bikes. Sephora (page 77) has tar­geted prod­ucts for a broader range of skin tones, in­clud­ing a crack­ling part­ner­ship with Rihanna’s new Fenty Beauty brand.

6. MO­MEN­TUM IS POWER.

Ap­ple is hardly the only tech gi­ant to ben­e­fit from an in­te­grated ecosys­tem. Ama­zon (page 30) has demon­strated that big doesn’t need to be slow, from its rapid Whole Foods in­te­gra­tion to its roll­out of new Echo de­vices. China’s Ten­cent (page 30), al­ready a dom­i­nant player across chat, me­dia, fi­nance, and more, ex­pe­ri­enced 59% growth in rev­enue.

7. SOLOISTS STILL STAND OUT.

Spo­tify’s (page 38) fo­cus on mu­sic has so far fended off even ri­vals like Ap­ple, with rev­enue up 52% and more than 140 mil­lion ac­tive users glob­ally. DJI (page 74) has turned drone mak­ing into an art. Compass Group (page 72) has amassed Pho­to­graph by ioulex enough heft in the food-ser­vices busi­ness that it is chang­ing what we eat—for the bet­ter.

8. THE EX­PECTED CAN BE UN­EX­PECTED.

Su­gar­fina (page 84) is re­defin­ing the idea of the candy store, while Di­a­mond Foundry (page 84) is dis­rupt­ing jew­elry by tak­ing man-made di­a­monds main­stream. Even our sullen ac­cep­tance of traf­fic jams is be­ing chal­lenged by Waze (page 66).

9. DATA SCI­ENCE IS FOR EV­ERY­ONE.

Math geeks and tech firms aren’t the only ones deploying data in novel ways. Rover (page 88) an­a­lyzes cues from its com­mu­nity to find bet­ter matches for pet care. Cava (page 77) is in­ject­ing new ef­fi­ciency—and joy— into the restau­rant busi­ness. Syapse (page 93) is tak­ing can­cer care to the next level, sav­ing lives.

10. AR­TI­FI­CIAL IN­TEL­LI­GENCE IS EV­ERY­WHERE.

The machines haven’t taken over, but they are en­abling new ac­tiv­i­ties, from vis­ual search at Pin­ter­est (page 82) to im­proved job list­ings via Tex­tio (page 94) to en­hanced, real-time travel plan­ning via Hopper (page 72). Even plum­bers, cater­ers, and hair­dressers can take ad­van­tage of AI, via the cus­tomer-and-job­match­ing al­go­rithms of Thumb­tack (page 60).

11. MO­BILE IS STILL EX­PAND­ING.

Smart­phones are a core tool for healthtech in­sur­gent Alivecor (page 59). They’re the epi­cen­ter of the cash­less-pay­ments boom, from In­dia’s Paytm (page 72) to small­busi­ness-fed Square (page 30). The NBA, too (page 38), is dou­bling down on in-your­pocket en­gage­ment.

12. MONEY TALKS.

As trite as it is true, dol­lars dic­tate ac­tion. Which is what makes a wave of new ef­forts to fix bro­ken fund­ing mod­els so promis­ing. So­cial Cap­i­tal (page 52) has taken aim at ven­ture cap­i­tal, while the Ford Foun­da­tion (page 65) is go­ing af­ter phi­lan­thropy. The folks at Givedi­rectly (page 100) are putting mil­lions be­hind a test of univer­sal ba­sic in­come.

13. KEEP THE FAITH.

Nin­tendo (page 48) seemed to be los­ing the game wars, un­til the Switch reignited pas­sion. 23andme (page 97) got ham­mered by the FDA, but has now re­gained mo­men­tum in ge­netic test­ing. We all have good days and bad days, mo­ments of adu­la­tion and de­spair. What al­lows in­no­va­tive or­ga­ni­za­tions—and their lead­ers—to keep driv­ing for­ward is the hope that to­mor­row will bring even more sat­is­fy­ing, ful­fill­ing achieve­ments. This is my fi­nal is­sue as ed­i­tor of Fast Com­pany. I re­main full of hope about the fu­ture, and how our read­ers will con­tinue to work to­gether to cre­ate a bet­ter world. I thank you for 11 years of sup­port, en­cour­age­ment, and en­thu­si­asm. It’s been a priv­i­lege.

Ap­ple CEO Tim Cook, pho­tographed with out­go­ing Fast Com­pany edi­tor Robert Safian, on Jan­uary 10, 2018, at Ap­ple Park.

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