strategy+business is published by PwC Strategy& LLC.
or, sign in with:
strategy and business
 / Winter 2012 / Issue 69(originally published by Booz & Company)


The Global Innovation 1000: Making Ideas Work

The types of techniques and tools they employ, however, depend in large part on each company’s favored innovation strategy (although these distinctions are more pronounced in the ideation stage). A great deal of the work we have done in the annual Global Innovation 1000 studies over the past several years has involved teasing out the different ways companies approach innovation, and the implications of those approaches. Five years ago, our research showed that nearly every company follows one of three fundamental innovation strategies, each of which has its own distinct way of managing the innovation process and its relationship to customers and markets. We thus categorize companies as Need Seekers, Market Readers, or Technology Drivers.

Need Seekers, such as Apple and Procter & Gamble, make a point of engaging customers directly to generate new ideas. They develop new products and services based on superior end-user understanding. Their goal: to seek out both articulated and unarticulated needs, and then to try to get their new products to market first.

Market Readers, such as Hyundai and Caterpillar, use a variety of means to generate ideas by closely monitoring their markets, customers, and competitors, focusing largely on creating value through incremental innovations to their products. This implies a more cautious approach, one that depends on being a “fast follower” in the marketplace.

Technology Drivers, such as Google and Bosch, depend heavily on their internal technological capabilities to develop new products and services. They leverage their R&D investments to drive both breakthrough innovation and incremental change, in hopes of meeting the known and unknown needs of their customers via new technology.

As in the past, our results this year suggest that following a Need Seekers strategy, although difficult, offers the greatest potential for superior performance in the long term. Fifty percent of respondents who defined their companies as Need Seekers said their companies were effective at both the ideation and conversion stages of innovation, compared with just 12 percent of Market Readers and 20 percent of Technology Drivers. These are the same companies, by and large, that consistently outperform financially.

It is critical to remember, however, that companies can significantly outperform their peers no matter which of the three strategies they follow. A far more critical factor is how well they follow their chosen innovation strategy: Is it tightly aligned with their overall business strategy? Have they put in place the innovation capabilities needed to support their strategy? Do they have the right corporate culture needed to make that strategy work? And are they using the tools and processes that will yield the best new ideas and development projects, consistent with their innovation model? Companies that can coherently align all these aspects of the innovation process, and execute them well, have a distinct advantage in the race for new ideas, products, and services.

The Lightbulb Moment

Where do ideas come from? That seemingly simple question is at the heart of the initial phase of innovation, when companies try to capture the best thinking about how to create breakthrough products and services that might transform their position in the marketplace, as well as the incremental improvements to their current product portfolios that can refresh tired brands. Few companies succeed at innovation without ensuring that adequate processes are in place to generate new ideas, and that those processes are followed in a disciplined fashion. Yes, serendipity will always play some part in the effort, and we’ve heard plenty of stories over the years about great ideas evolving out of chance meetings, sudden flashes of insight, and sheer luck. Large companies, however, simply can’t depend on happenstance, and the most successful ones understand that clearly.

Follow Us 
Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Google Plus YouTube RSS strategy+business Digital and Mobile products App Store



  1. Top 20 R&D Spenders 2004–2011. An interactive look at the 20 publicly traded companies worldwide that spent the most on R&D over the past eight years.
  2. R&D Spending by Regions and Industries. This interactive graphic compares R&D spending by regions and industries from 2004 through 2011.
  3. 2012 Global Innovation 1000 Study. Authors Barry Jaruzelski and John Loehr discuss the results of the Global Innovation 1000 study, focusing on the “fuzzy front end” of the innovation process.


  1. Click here for the Methodology behind the 2011 Global Innovation 1000 study.
  2. Jon Gertner, The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation (Penguin Press, 2012): A history of Bell Labs, a hotbed of innovation in the 20th century.
  3. Barry Jaruzelski, John Loehr, and Richard Holman, “The Global Innovation 1000: Why Culture Is Key,” s+b, Winter 2011: The most successful innovators ensure that their company’s culture not only supports innovation, but actually accelerates its execution.
  4. Barry Jaruzelski and Kevin Dehoff, “The Global Innovation 1000: How the Top Innovators Keep Winning,” s+b, Winter 2010: Highly innovative companies outperform by focusing on critical capabilities aligned with their overall business strategy.
  5. Barry Jaruzelski and Kevin Dehoff, “The Customer Connection: The Global Innovation 1000,” s+b, Winter 2007: This study first identified the three distinct innovation strategies: Need Seekers, Market Readers, and Technology Drivers.
  6. Steven Veldhoen et al., “Innovation: China’s Next Advantage?” (PDF) Benelux Chamber of Commerce, China Europe International Business School, Wenzhou Chamber of Commerce, and Booz & Company, 2012: Chinese companies are growing more innovative — competing with multinationals at home and, increasingly, abroad.
  7. Booz & Company’s Global Innovation 1000 Study microsite.
  8. Booz & Company’s online innovation strategy profiler: Evaluate your company’s R&D strategy and the capabilities it requires.
  9. For more thought leadership on this topic, see the s+b website at:
Sign up to receive s+b newsletters and get a FREE Strategy eBook

You will initially receive up to two newsletters/week. You can unsubscribe from any newsletter by using the link found in each newsletter.