Too Much of a Good Thing? Quality as an Impediment to Innovation

by Robert Cole, Tsuyoshi Matsumiya

Fall 2007

Volume 50
Issue 1

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The belief that there is a positive link between quality and innovation is widely shared among quality professionals. Yet the experience of Japanese manufacturing firms, who are well known for their high standards of quality performance, casts doubt upon this relationship. In fact, the inability of some Japanese high-technology firms to introduce radical and disruptive new technologies is in part due to the emphasis they have placed on product quality. By delaying the introduction of new technologies until their quality could be assured, they lost out to American firms who were willing to introduce new products and service features that met the needs of consumers, even though they were not free from deficiencies, such as Apple’s iPod. Using three major case studies from the Japanese high-tech sector, this article analyzes what kinds of innovation might be undermined by a focus on quality and explores its managerial implications.

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