Where there's struggle or discomfort, there's room for innovation.

I just returned from an enlightening and informative three days at the 2011QualityConference, held in collaboration with University of North Carolina-Charlotte and the Charlotte Research Innovation Center.

The conference kicked off with a tour of Joe Gibbs Racing. We had the opportunity to check out the facility and learned that it costs more than $80,000 to build an engine and approximately three-and-a half weeks to put together a car to compete at the NASCAR level.

After two workshops, several keynote addresses and myriad presentations, Praveen Gupta, president of Accelper Consulting (Schaumburg, IL) closed out the conference with, “Beyond Quality-A Roadmap for Innovation.”

Gupta addressed the audience by saying that we live in an age of mass customization so we all need to be innovative.

Of course he’s right. We have fast food chains that tout that you can have it your way. Coffee is available in any size or flavor imaginable. No longer is it necessary to buy an entire CD for $15 in hopes that you like more than the first single released. Now we can download a single song for around $1 and then further customize our music choices into categories: workout; shake your groove thing; and, in an effort to please my jedis-in-training, Star Wars music.

Don’t accept anything less than perfect. “Innovation without excellence is a waste,” Gupta stressed, “and excellence without innovation is dumb.”

Gupta further explained that innovation is the new face of quality-it is a new characteristic of quality. No longer is innovation something addressed only within the fours walls of large companies. It starts with the individual.

Contrary to many of our own hang-ups, Gupta said that everyone can become a great innovator, but it is a conscious decision that we need to make on an individual basis. Where does one begin?

“Where there’s a struggle or discomfort, there’s room for innovation.” Gupta said. “Develop something that you customers would love to have.”

Innovation can be as simple as combining two things. The cell phone industry exploded by merely combining the telephone and portability. On another level, here atQualitywe have a Webinar series that combines the need for education, accessibility of computers and the comforts of your home or office to deliver need-to-know information.

Perhaps, most importantly, innovation should be fun. It’s fun to think without boundaries. Remember when you were a kid and your imagination took you to places long-forgotten by adults? It’s time to revisit that part of your life to get the innovation ball rolling.

Are you ready to accept Gupta’s challenge to become an innovator? Where will you start? Share your thoughts with me or with other members of the Quality community at the Quality Magazine LinkedIn Group page, the Quality Facebook page and on Twitter athttp://twitter.com/QualityMagazine.


A special thanks to all of our sponsors and speakers who participated in the 2011QualityConference.