Is Google The Most Innovative Company of 2014?


A few weeks ago Fast Company published an article naming the 50 most innovative companies of 2014, claiming that their “staff has spent more than six months gathering and analyzing data.” Landing at the top of the heap was Google, the worlds leading search engine operator who uses our information to sell display ads to corporations. Here’s Fast Company’s take on Google.

As the cost per click–the rate advertisers pay for an online ad–continues declining, Google is pursuing projects that could reinvent the company–and society. For its breadth, ambition, and relentless spirit to keep creating the future, Google tops our 2014 list of the Most Innovative Companies in business.

The emphasis in that paragraph is my own, and I think it’s the most telling part. “Could.” Fast Company goes on to list the projects that put Google at the top.

Calico, a spin-off company, working to extend the human lifespan.

Google’s autonomous vehicles, which reached the 500,000 driver-free mile benchmark–incident-free.

Google Fiber, which is bringing gigabit Internet service to Austin, Texas, and Provo, Utah, inspiring Los Angeles and Louisville, Kentucky, to follow.

And much of Google’s work changes our daily lives through shear convenience:

Glass, which is making wearables the next computing trend.

Shopping Express, an experiment in same-day delivery with national and local retailers.

Google Now, which reminds users when their favorite band or author has a new release and when the last train is leaving–before it’s too late.

To me, these are really poor examples of innovation. Of these products, only one of them is available to a mass audience, and that’s Google Now, which is quite awesome but shouldn’t necessarily put them at the top. There is a high potential for Google to create amazing things, especially with the money and resources they have, but which of these products are here now, helping us in our day-to-day lives?

According to Business Insider only about 800,000 pairs of Google Glass have been sold since launch (for contrast, Apple sells around 375,555 iPhones a day), there are only about 10 driverless cars currently being tested, and Google Fiber is available to around 1 million people or so in mostly rural areas.

If you look up the word innovation it’s “the application of better solutions that meet new requirements, unarticulated needs, or existing market needs. This is accomplished through more effective products, processes, services, technologies, or ideas that are readily available to markets, governments and society.” The key there is that an innovation is something that’s readily available, yet the majority of Google’s products on that list don’t fit the bill.

Comparing Google to other companies in the top ten I think you do see some true standouts. Netflix disrupted the way we consume media while Nike has changed the way we stay healthy (and still keeps the bar high in regards to style). Airbnb changed the way we vacation and Dropbox has done away with the idea of a desktop or hard drives to store our digital selves. These companies are actively innovating with products that can immediately change the way you live. I’m actually shocked that Uber didn’t make the top 50 at all despite how it’s fundamentally changed how many of us get around.

Vaporware as it’s called won’t ever help anyone. If we want to talk about theoretically innovating we should put Apple at the top for their upcoming “smart watch” and “iTV”, the fact that they might buy Tesla, and a hundred other random rumors. Or perhaps I should win for sitting here dreaming up an idea to cure world hunger. I swear I’m working really hard to make it happen.

Innovation is tangible and transformative not something you think will be “big” one day soon.