How can U.S. manufacturers possibly compete with China and other low-wage countries? Twenty years ago Japanese companies presented a similar threat, and the response was the Quality Revolution, with manufacturers embracing Quality Circles, excellence, TQM and other methods. Robert B. Tucker, author of “Driving Growth Through Innovation,” says innovation can defeat today’s threat. Broaden your definition of innovation to include not just products, but services and service enhancements, processes, technology and strategy initiatives. Successful U.S. manufacturing will demand a relentless focus on process innovation, as well as product and strategy innovation. Tucker suggests visiting other manufacturers who are innovating and thriving; the time you spend benchmarking could provide the motivation you need to come up with your next breakthrough idea. Become active in your trade association and attend conferences to gather new ideas and meet progressive manufacturers, says Tucker. “There’s no such thing as a mature market or a commodity product, only tired imaginations.” Finally, unleash the creativity of your people. Your skilled workforce is a global competitive advantage, but only if you see it that way and engage people creatively. You will need to produce more with fewer people, so mine their minds and experiences in pursuit of innovation. Tucker insists that manufacturers who embrace innovation can make anything and everything, now and in the future, despite the uneven playing field.

Innovation Tools 5 Feb 2004