Innovation in Quality
For almost 100 years of our quality journey, we increasingly pampered our customers by giving them what they wanted. Customers now assume that quality is a given. Further, in our present information age, customers are more aware of competitive suppliers, as well as suppliers with poor performance. Quality performance has peaked globally, and the faces of quality have moved from the line worker to the corporate executive. Activities that improve quality hardly yield significant benefits anymore. So what else can be done to improve business performance and delight customers?
In the interdependent and competitive global economy one must find true competitive advantages based on features and capability rather than quality alone. Delivering a solution that is unique to each customer is becoming more important than delivering a standard solution with virtually perfect quality. Instead of managing the cost of goods or services, businesses will need to manage growth by offering innovative solutions to customers. The quality of innovation becomes a differentiating factor. The quality of innovation implies how well each business is equipped to innovate and offer high-volume custom solutions. Thus the businesses will be moving from quality improvement to innovation improvement.
Interestingly, innovation has become a global issue and is being addressed by national governments. Innovation implies the use of intellectual resources–the people and their intellectual involvement, knowledge management, and new product innovations. Innovation offers a great opportunity for quality professionals to lead the organization in improving the quality of business by contributing to profitable growth. They have the inherent advantage of knowing the customer’s pulse and the organization’s capabilities. They only lack an innovation methodology to leverage existing resources to exploit the opportunities offered by the customers.
Having been a quality professional who successfully transitioned to an innovation professional, I see a striking commonality between quality improvement and innovation. Ultimately, innovation means change, and so does improvement. One way to understand the difference is that improvement may be a one-dimensional change, while innovation is a multidimensional change.
The three rules of creativity
We must learn about innovation as a process. It begins with a belief that one can be innovative. Innovation is for everyone, and can be applied in everything. It is no longer a debate between manufacturing and service. Many experts tell us that we must learn creativity, the assumption being that we are not already creative. I believe that we all are creative. The evidence of our creativity comes from our actions. We rarely do anything exactly the same way twice. After teaching business innovation classes at the Illinois Institute of Technology, I have come to the conclusion that the following three steps help everyone to become more creative. Applying these steps changed my class response from being 5-percent creative to 100-percent creative in 10 minutes. These rules for creativity are as follows:
• Rule 1: Decide to always be creative. Look for innovations everywhere, admire creativity, and research any garments that interests you.
• Rule 2: Start combining two or more items or ideas in unique ways. Every innovation is a unique synthesis of many ideas. Analyze other innovations to see what is so different about them. Associating and combining is a natural activity for our brain.
• Rule 3: Continually practice to become fast at combining ideas. We must become fast thinkers by synthesizing all the information we have gathered and have fun doing it.
The five phases of the methodology
Once we learn the creative process, we must recognize that creativity and innovation are two different things. Creativity is just an idea, invention is a prototype, and innovation is production. Unless the idea becomes a reality and is used repeatedly in creating value–and people are willing to pay for it–it isn’t innovation. For example, suppose no one bought Apple’s iPod. Would it be called innovative? Absolutely not; it would simply be a creative product. Thus we must learn the entire cycle of innovation, from concept development to monetization. I see the innovation methodology as consisting of the following five phases, which are also seen in figure 1, below.