Forward Thinking

As quality professionals, you’re trained to place intense emphasis on the voice of the customer, and certainly, there is great value in being highly attuned to customers’ needs and wants. But there are certain things customers can’t tell you. The theme of this month’s issue is about anticipating and catering to customer needs—before they even know what they want. It’s called innovation.

W. Edwards Deming believed in the power and necessity of innovation, and knew it didn’t originate with the customer: “Innovation comes from the producer—not from the customer,” he said.

The ability to extend beyond the tried-and-true is essential in our rapidly changing world. Innovation is the driving force behind the companies that will survive today and thrive tomorrow. Staying one step ahead of your customer has never been more important. The need to innovate is and will continue to be a constant. Needless to say, many organizations find themselves to be innovation challenged.

Futurist Jim Carroll, who spoke at ASQ’s World Conference on Quality and Improvement this spring, says there are 10 signs that you’ve got innovation dysfunction within your organization:

  • People laugh at new ideas.
  • Someone who identifies a problem is shunned.
  • Innovation is the privileged practice of a special group.
  • The phrase, “You can’t do that because we’ve always done it this way” follows every new idea.
  • No one can remember the last time anyone did anything really cool.
  • People think innovation is about R&D.
  • People have convinced themselves that competing on price is normal.
  • The organization is focused more on process than success.
  • There are lots of baby boomers about, and few people younger than 25.
  • After any type of surprise—product, market, industry or organizational change—everyone sits back and asks, “Wow, where did that come from?”

Look around you. Look at your company. If you read any one of the points above, and thought, “Boy, can I relate,” you must—really, for the sake of survival—ask yourself, “What are you going to do about it?”

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