BusinessWeek Readers Have Their Say

As part of expanding coverage of the world's top innovators, we asked our readers to weigh in on our annual list of the Most Innovative Companies

This year, our annual Most Innovative Companies special report had a new element: an online poll that reflects what our readers think of the state of innovation. While the results weren't an official part of the ranking (which was based on a Boston Consulting Group survey and factored in companies' financial performances), they were nonetheless enlightening.

For instance, 97% of online poll respondents believe Apple (AAPL) deserves its reputation as the "world's most innovative company," as it was ranked in 2008. (Readers were asked to weigh in on last year's ranking as the 2009 results had not then been revealed. Apple is again No. 1 in 2009.)

Apple also dominated the written-in answers to the question, "Name a publicly traded company that's dealing with the downturn in an innovative way, and how." One reader wrote: "Apple has $20 billion in the bank, and they are using that money to retain staff (instead of laying off good people) and to increase R&D (instead of decreasing)."

On the flip side, nearly two-thirds of respondents said that Microsoft (MSFT) should not have been on the 2008 list (it was No. 5 in 2008 and rises to No. 4 this year). This was a yes/no question, so there were no write-in answers that helped to explain why. Please do add thoughts in the comments box below.

More Questions

We also wanted to know about up-and-coming innovators. Many readers nominated a barely two-year-old startup called Fusion-io, which makes large-scale computer data systems using flash memory. Tech giants are already paying attention: Dell (DELL) and Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) recently signed partnerships with Fusion-io; Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak signed on to be its chief scientist. As a result, we set BusinessWeek technology writer Arik Hesseldahl on the case. Take a look at his profile of Fusion-io and founder Rick White.

Poll respondents also voted on what business strategies make sense during the downturn. For instance, one question asked: "Which is more important to you today: Taking risks or stability?" Fifty-four percent of the 602 respondents who answered the question said they valued taking risks.

We also wanted to know the types of risks you might want your company to take to be more creative. In response to the query, "What would you tell your boss to boost innovation at your company?" most (55% of the 614 who answered the question) wanted leaders to "Encourage all employees to submit ideas for new products." Only 3% thought hiring an ouside innovation firm was the way to go, while just 8% felt appointing a chief innovation officer made sense. But 34% believe that increasing R&D spending was critical, even when facing today's economic challenges.

We'll ask more questions in the months to come. (Follow the discussion at the NEXT blog. For now: Which of the companies on our 2009 list of the most innovative companies should NOT be featured?

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