New products, new services, and new technology—these are the areas set to drive future growth, according to our latest World’s Most Admired Companies (WMAC) research, in partnership with Fortune.

WMAC leaders say product and service innovation is a top growth priority—and their results make a compelling business case. After all, almost two-thirds of the most innovative WMAC companies have grown by more than 10%.

The Asia-Pacific region is ripe for innovation, too. It’s expected to account for nearly 60% of global GDP growth in 2024, according to Economist Intelligence research, while almost 75% of APAC CEOs are planning for higher revenue growth and profitability.

Here are three ways you can make innovation and growth happen in your organization.

1 Innovate Globally, Grow Locally

Product and service innovation consists of “a series of experiments that understand the challenges your customers face, and then validate whether your new product or service addresses their needs,” says Korn Ferry’s Senior Client Partner Navin Wathan.

The point about “your customers” is key. Many APAC companies look at companies around the world to see what’s working for them, but copy-and-paste isn’t enough.

“One thing we see often is APAC leaders look to the world, see what’s happening, and then build and launch it to their own customer base, with little or no validation that Asian customers seek that service,” says Wathan. For example, many APAC telcos launched mobile wallets in the hopes of copying the success of Africa’s mobile-money platform M-PESA. “To date, few have resonated,” says Wathan.

In contrast, he says, Malaysian app Grab, which offers on-demand food deliveries, taxis, financial services, and more, aligned its offerings to local consumer spending patterns. This fueled incredible growth, making it the go-to super app for 70 million customers in Southeast Asia.

“Local Asian enterprises can quickly have second-mover advantage, learning from competing technologies around the world,” says Bill Randall, Korn Ferry Senior Client Partner. "But there’s often a gap in research and development. The people doing all the research are technical experts, but they often lack those crucial customer insights,” says Randall.

One important APAC trend worth noting is that by 2025, Generation Z will make up 25% of Asia-Pacific’s population,making them a sizeable consumer base—and one that expects to engage digitally with businesses.

“If you’re investing more in R&D, as 70% of the World’s Most Admired Companies told us they’re doing, then make sure you integrate customer views. That is what will accelerate the future success of those new products or services.”

2 Embrace Homegrown Talent for Innovation

Gen Z isn’t just a focus as a customer base. It’s also a key talent pool in APAC—especially when it comes to digital innovation.

This generation grew up with technology at their fingertips, and many have a better understanding of the needs of people from other regions than previous generations, both by simply growing up with the internet and also from studying and living abroad. In fact, by 2025, 80% of the growth in the international student market is expected to come from Asian countries.

“Asian international students want to come back to the region and bring the skills they learned. And they want to work in an agile culture, where their ideas are heard and could become part of a market solution,” says Wathan.

Local access to these internationally educated tech developers can accelerate innovation in the right environment. “Organizations know they need to innovate to attract the best people. And if we don't have a strong internal culture of innovation, we are going to lose that,” he adds.

Organization Strategy

Change starts with people

3 Foster a Culture of Innovation to Make Growth Inevitable

Innovation needs to be embedded in your organizational culture at every level, from the top down. The reason innovation often fails is that companies lack a culture of innovation, which means people have a fear of trying new things that could put their jobs at risk.

So what does a culture of innovation look like? Three-quarters of the World’s Most Admired Companies say they actively prioritize innovation projects and accept the risk of failure. They are also more likely to measure and reward innovation.

It’s an area where APAC leaders struggle, says Randall. “Many are yet to embed innovation into their operating model, such as by making sure KPIs include a goal around innovation,” he says. They need to make sure teams share the responsibility for innovation and are also incentivized and celebrated for it.

The language leaders use can also embed a culture of accountability for innovation. Wathan encourages leaders to talk openly about the experiments they’re running, the data behind the hypotheses, and the impact of that work.

“If you only ask your teams one question, make it, ‘What insight did you get from a customer about their challenge or problem today?’” he suggests. “That makes people feel you’re open to them thinking deeply about what customers want—rather than just giving orders to execute tasks. It gets them excited because they feel heard.”

It also gives you valuable insights to accelerate innovation while prioritizing the ideas that will add genuine value and happiness to your customers’ lives and lead to growth for your organization. And then you can decide whether to build those ideas in-house, or buy them by partnering with the growing ecosystem of Asian innovators.

Achieving Growth Through Innovation

By its very nature, innovation involves breaking the rules. While these are three valuable ways for APAC organizations to incorporate innovation into their businesses, having a culture of innovation means being open to change in everything from ways of working to product development.

But when growth is the target, even the most maverick disruptors must start with a foundation of knowledge. And there are few better ways to get ideas than by looking to companies that are already changing the world through breaking the rules.

Dig into our research to discover more ways the world's leading companies are driving growth through innovation.