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Greg MacSweeney
Greg MacSweeney
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The 'I' Word

Saying your company is innovative is one thing -- actually being an innovative company is another.

Related Photo Gallery: WS&T's Top 10 Innovators of the Decade

Sometimes business innovation is crushed before it ever gets started. That's not to say business executives frown on innovation; it's just that they often don't understand it.

Ask 10 CEOs if they run an innovative company, and you'll probably get 10 affirmative answers. But saying your company is innovative is one thing -- actually being an innovative company is another. Innovation isn't something that can be turned on or off. It needs to be fostered. An innovative environment, creative people, funding and the right leadership are just some of the necessary ingredients. But even with all of the ingredients in place, a company has to have the ability to "go back to the drawing board" more than a few times to get some innovations right.

Granted, some companies are completely focused on innovation, from top to bottom, and it shows in their results. Apple, of course, is everyone's "innovation" darling these days, and rightfully so. Steve Jobs' engineers have delivered innovation after innovation during the past decade with a track record that is almost unblemished. (In fact, the world seems to be hoping for an Apple "epic fail" and even tried to create one with the iPhone 4's "antennagate." But antennagate barely slowed Apple's momentum, and the iPhone remains the world's leading smartphone by sales volume.)

It's important to note, however, that there is a large gap between "innovation" and just any new product feature or tweak to an existing business plan. Often we hear about an innovation that really isn't that innovative at all. Tablet PCs, for example, have been around for more than a decade, but early models were simply Windows desktops with a touchscreen. For most of the 2000s, the tablet PC industry limped along, never really gaining any traction. The iPad, however, built on the success of the iPhone operating system and created a truly interactive (and innovative) tablet that has dominated the space since its 2010 launch, capturing roughly 80 percent of the market.

In financial services, the term "innovation" is used frequently: an innovative portfolio management technique, an innovative algorithm or an innovative investment strategy. There are thousands of supposedly innovative products and strategies that surface every year in the industry. But only a few really change the market (for better or worse) and have an impact that outlasts the most recent news cycle.

It's difficult to tell at any given point in time if a product or idea will be truly innovative. Sometimes it takes the luxury of hindsight. Fortunately, Wall Street & Technology's editors have had the luxury of looking back on the past decade of innovation in the capital markets. Here's our take on the industry's top 10 innovators of the decade.

Greg MacSweeney is editorial director of InformationWeek Financial Services, whose brands include Wall Street & Technology, Bank Systems & Technology, Advanced Trading, and Insurance & Technology. View Full Bio
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