Fast Company’s 2015 list of World’s 50 Innovative companies had a few surprises for global market observers.
The first surprise is that Warby Parker topped the list, beating Apple—Apple has been on and off the top of the list in recent years.
The second surprise is the rise of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba to the third position – right behind Apple and ahead of Google—“for helping consumers save, and be entertained,” according to the Fast Company report.
The third, and perhaps most notable surprise, is the inclusion in the list of three Chinese upstarts. They are Da-Jiang Innovations in the 22nd position, “for creating the GOPRO of the sky;” Apricot Forest in the 25th position “for seeking to cure to what ails Chinese healthcare;” and Wandoujia in the 34th position “for solving China’s mobile problem.”
All three topped Samsung Electronics, which occupied the 41st position.
These results are consistent with the recent findings of Forbes World’s Most Innovative companies, though the list of Chinese companies that made this list is totally different than the companies that made it to the Fast Company list.
But that should be expected, as the two surveys use different listing criteria. Forbes uses objective criteria, which favor large established companies. Fast Company uses subjective criteria, which favor upstarts over large established companies.
Still, the Fast Company results should come as a surprise to some observers for two reasons: First, they contradict the results of other surveys, which use subjective listed criteria like the Boston Consulting Group – where it is hard to find any Chinese company made. Besides, the results of the Fast Company survey must be interpreted with extreme caution, as the rankings tend to vary widely from year to year.
“Only a handful of companies repeat on our main Top 50 list year to year because the pace of change is so intense,” writes Robert Safian. “Successful enterprises struggle to outdo themselves; new entrants with new ideas and new momentum are constantly emerging, demanding attention.”
Besides, Fast Company doesn’t disclose what its listing criteria are.
Second, the findings of the Fast Company survey defies a broadly held view that China is an imitator of products made elsewhere in the West and Asia rather than an innovator. China has yet to catch up with Western and Asian leaders in an important economic factor – entrepreneurship – lagging far behind the US, Japan, and Korea in global entrepreneurship, according to the 2015 Global Entrepreneurship Index.
And Chinese companies have yet to climb to more popular lists like Forbes Best Global Brands and Interbrand’s 100 Best Global Brands report.
The bottom line: There are good signs that China is making progress in innovation, both among upstarts and established companies. But innovation has yet to be diffused throughout the Chinese economy and help the country create its own global brands.
This article was written by Panos Mourdoukoutas from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.