Dictionary defines innovation as, “a new idea or method or device.” That
definition is rather vague as it implies that anything new is innovative. That
is simply not the case. Painting a blue widget red, or making it round instead
of square may have merit, but it is not necessarily innovative.
“Innovation” comes from the Latin word “novare” which includes, as part of its
meaning, “to change, to alter, to invent.” Innovation carries with it a newness
that comes from a fresh approach.
The subject of innovation came about as a result of Quality Magazine’s recent
Manufacturing & Measurement Conference & Workshop (MMCW) 2007 held in
Many of the speakers addressed new techniques for making accurate and
repeatable measurements. These were innovative because the approaches were ones
that had not been previously considered and they yielded sought-after knowledge
Other speakers suggested innovative ways of increasing measurement knowledge on
the part of the operator. They proposed fresh, new approaches that have never
In a global economy, the cost of production is often a driving factor in
deciding where a product is made. This directly influences the amount of
economic power a region wields. A case in point is the power of China. Its
cheap labor gives it a leadership role when it comes to exports. At one time,
cheap labor, and the power that went with it, was found in South Korea, Japan
and Mexico. The competitive advantage that the United States has is its ability
to innovate. That advantage finally may be challenged.
MMCW speaker and author Praveen Gupta and I had the chance to discuss the
importance of the U.S. edge in innovation. He has a new book, “Business
Innovation in the 21st Century,” that I am reading. Gupta’s basic premise is
that innovation is a process that can be understood and, hence, taught and
refined to improve the results of innovation.
In understanding and implementing such a process, an individual, company or
country can maintain a leadership position in business, education,
manufacturing or whatever their chosen field. Therein lies the challenge for
If innovation can be learned here, it can be learned in other countries. And,
in regions such as China, Vietnam, India, Eastern Europe and elsewhere where
there is a high level of education, the United States could find itself in a
tight race in which it has long held the lead.
Quality Magazine is committed to supporting such leadership in innovation. In our Quality Innovations column, we look
at innovative products that solve current measurement, test and inspection
demands in an inventive manner. The fact that we run this feature on a regular
basis testifies to the fact that, despite what cynics may say about there
“being nothing new in quality,” the industry has plenty of innovation
stimulating its forward momentum.
What does your company do to promote innovation? How innovative are you? Let me
know at email@example.com.
Thomas Sloma-Williams is publisher of Quality Magazine.