Marketing and Discontinuous Innovation: The Probe and Learn Process
California Management Review, Volume 38, No. 3, Spring 1996
29 Pages Posted: 25 Sep 2012
Date Written: 1996
The disappointing performance of U.S. firms during the 1980s in technology-intensive, global markets (such as consumer electronics, office and factory automation, and semiconductor memories) has been widely attributed to a failure to continuously and incrementally improve products and processes. In "The Breakthrough Illusion", Florida and Kenney wrote that "The United States makes the breakthroughs, while other countries, especially Japan, provide the follow-through" on which competitive advantage is built. Gomory made a similar point. contrasting "revolutionary" innovations with "another, wholly different, less dramatic, and rather grueling process of innovation, which is far more critical to commercializing technology profitably...Its hallmark is incremental improvement, not breakthrough. It requires turning products over again and again, getting the new model out, starting work on an even newer one. This may all sound dull, but the achievements are exhilarating." In "The Machine that Changed the World", the most influential work on the subject of the 1980s, Womack, Jones, and Roos measured the competitive effects of this lack of attention to continuous incremental improvement throiugh a benchmarking study of the global automobile industry. Other studies reinforce this message: compared to their Japanese competitors, U.S. firms lagged in cost, quality, and speed; and in large measure, the problem stemmed from a relative........
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