We have 20 months, if we slow down

Bruce Nussbaum ended his post today, "Quality vs Innovation" with the question "Do we have the time?". With all due respect, Bruce, no, we don’t have the time. But neither do I think it will take 20 years. In fact, it could happen overnight, if we opened our eyes and just looked beyond the obvious. But a more realistic time frame would be closer to two years, or 20 months to make the numbers more symmetrical.

What Nussbaum refers to, in summary, is Gary Hamel‘s observation on the time it took for the Total Quality Movement to catch on in the US, long after Japan had embraced Dr. W. Edwards Deming’s concepts and made it their own. Hamel apparently predicts that it would take "innovation" approximately the same amount of time to catch on. I disagree for a number of reasons.

But first, I felt, that I should dig a little deeper into the history of the TQM movement and the reasons for its slow acceptance. Were there any lessons there? On the American Society for Quality site, I came across this note,

Quality function deployment [QFD] was developed by Yoji Akao as a process for
focusing on customer wants or needs in the design or redesign of a
product or service.

Does this sound familiar? It did to me, implying as it does, the research focused, user centered design process for the development of new products. So I looked for more information on QFD, as it’s fondly known, and came across the following with references to new methods developed and some simplifications in the process,

Dr. Akao never approved of these "Americanizations" because they
reduced QFD to a cookbook mentality instead of the dynamic approach he
intended.

This made me go back to the reasons for TQM’s slow adoption in the US as given on the American Society site,

American managers were generally unaware of this trend, assuming any competition from the Japanese would ultimately come in the form of price, not quality. In the meantime, Japanese manufacturers began increasing their share in American markets, causing widespread economic effects in the United States: Manufacturers began losing market share, organizations began shipping jobs overseas, and the economy suffered unfavorable trade balances. Overall, the impact on American business jolted the United States into action.

The American Response

At first U.S. manufacturers held onto to their assumption that Japanese success was price-related, and thus responded to Japanese competition with strategies aimed at reducing domestic production costs and restricting imports. This, of course, did nothing to improve American competitiveness in quality.

Yes, I’ve been long winded on my way to getting to the point, but I feel it is valuable to look back and learn from the past. While details may differ, history can repeat itself. And can we deny the validity today of these words?

Manufacturers began losing market share, organizations began shipping
jobs overseas, and the economy suffered unfavorable trade balances.

American business was jolted before, it can be jolted again into action. It should not take 20 years to do this jolting, however. The reason why surveys such as [insert big name mgt consultancy I can’t quite recall right now] say that the most successful and innovative companies out there right now are emerging from the hitherto underdeveloped nations is just that – they are leapfrogging over their more established competition by learning from history. From the mistakes that established transnational firms have already made while pioneering.

In the meantime, Bruce, you say that innovation is the new black. Innovation is automatically assumed to be the new, usually and unquestioningly new technologies. Innovation is the future. Innovation means never having to look back. Or not.

From my first two quotes above, two inferences can be derived:-

1. "Assumptions", "assuming", – the ASQ says that the American assumed they knew what was behind Japan’s success. They never thought to find out.

2. Dr Akao’s concern over quick fixes, a "cookbook mentality" – or in niblettes‘ inimitable words,

"everything you know and everything everyone else tells you is WRONG–so listen to us. That will be $39.95 please"

that there is ONE right answer out there, and this is it. It will fix all your problems, just follow our magic process, 1. 2. 3. Presto! Voila!

Perhaps, what we need more than quality or innovation or the next black thing is to slow down. Observe. Reflect. Plan. Think. Look at the big picture. Think about the long term. The Japanese corporations certainly always have done so. So have the Koreans, and I am sure, the Chinese. And the Indians. Just like everything else in life, it takes hard work, perseverance and vision to achieve your goals.

Just one example is LG Electronics Corporate Design Center winning the Red Dot Design Team of the Year award last night in Essen Germany. According to Dr. Peter Zec, their very first employee was a designer. They’ve been aiming at this goal [or one of them] for a very long time.

So, it can take 20 months, or even 20 seconds, not 20 years. Because all that is really required is innovation in perspective. Just flip the telescope around.

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One Response to We have 20 months, if we slow down

  1. Quality and Innovation

    I think the The Quality Movement Vs. The Innovation Movement by Bruce Nussbaum makes a mistake in calling the innovation movement separate from the quality movement.
    Wow. It makes sense. The father of quality, of course, was Dr. W. Edwards Demming, and…

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