This Year’s Most Innovative Companies Are Huge. But Scale Isn’t a Prerequisite for Great Ideas

March 21, 2019, 11:40 AM UTC
10 most valuable companies
The logo of Alphabet is seen on a screen next to an illustration of the stock market. Alphabet is one of the biggest companies in the world. (Photo by Alexander Pohl/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Alexander Pohl—NurPhoto via Getty Images

Boston Consulting Group has put out its latest rundown of the most innovative companies, as nominated by 2,500 executives the consultants interviewed. Unsurprisingly, there’s a big tech presence at the top.

Here’s the top 10:

1) Alphabet/Google
2) Amazon
3) Apple
4) Microsoft
5) Samsung
6) Netflix
7) IBM
8) Facebook
9) Tesla
10) Adidas

So what makes these companies innovative? The big themes in this year’s BCG report are the use of “A.I.”—meaning automation and advanced analytics—and of platforms and ecosystems.

I had a chat with Michael Ringel, one of the BCG partners who authored the report, and asked whether the companies winning out now are innovative because they use A.I., or are innovative and they use the technology.

“It’s a bit of both,” he said. “In order to be using A.I. now and getting real value out of it, you have to be a company that’s forward thinking, that’s made investments in the area, that’s willing to disrupt your own model… There has to be the necessary breeding ground for the right kind of behavior that would allow you to invest in A.I.” But the use of A.I. can also create new business opportunities that were not necessarily anticipated at the start, he added, citing Gmail’s newfound ability to complete people’s sentences for them.

The companies on the list are of course mostly pretty huge. So is scale a prerequisite for being innovative these days? Ringel pointed out that, at a company level, the academic literature says innovation is scale-invariant—universal, in other words; both startups and large companies are coming up with great ideas.

However, he noted, “you do need to be able to access a set of data, a set of platforms, in order to be able to drive value.” Even for companies that are already in a strong position, good ecosystems are increasingly necessary to provide the sort of data scale that’s needed.

You can read the full report here.

A version of this story first appeared in Fortune’s CEO Daily newsletter. Subscribe here.

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