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Business INSIGHTS e-News for Manufacturers

About the Author

Bob Schmidt

Senior Manufacturing Consultant

  • 24 years of hands-on experience in diverse manufacturing environments; product line and contract manufacturing as well as the design and build of capital equipment; wood, metal, polymer and electronics industries
  • Corporate experience with TRW, Eaton Corporation and privately held local companies
  • Expertise including operational assessment and strategy, productivity improvement, Lean Manufacturing principles, organizational change, operational/technical management, Six Sigma design, technical/consultative sales, ISO/QS and more
  • BSME, Cleveland State University; Six Sigma, SBTI; Lean Manufacturing, NIST

Growth Through Innovation

by Bob Schmidt

Everyone wants an advantage. Relative to their competitors, businesses want to be seen by customers as "the" go-to provider. My favorite racecar driver and boyhood hero, the late Mark Donohue, was always labeled as having an "unfair advantage" by his competitors. In reading Mark's autobiography, I learned that the Penske team he was a part of was very innovative -- always conceiving ways to go faster, testing those ideas on the track and at times stretching the boundaries of the rules book. But the underlying theme was always hard work. Donohue's team outworked most everyone else. Sweat equity some might call it.

In industry, success through innovation is the same. Coming up with innovative ideas is hard work, and getting them successfully to market is difficult and always risky. The more innovative the product is, the larger the uncertainty of success--but usually the higher the payoff. Managing this risk while fostering an atmosphere of innovation is a tricky balancing act. Many companies have a formal process to achieve this balance. Oftentimes, however, these processes end up creating barriers that squelch innovation by requiring too much to be known at the early stages of development. Really innovative ideas are almost always those that we know the least about going in.

Innovation Tip: To overcome early innovation jitters, consider adapting a tried-and-true principle introduced by J. Edward Deming: the Plan, Do, Study (Check), Act (PDSA) cycle for continuous improvement and learning. Assign a point person or small team to address key concerns and gain needed information each week. This lowers anxiety and keeps innovation moving. 

To learn more about this concept, feel free to contact me at

Since 1984, Cleveland, Ohio-based MAGNET - the Manufacturing Advocacy & Growth Network - has assisted thousands of manufacturers through its Edison Technology Center programs, Manufacturing Extension Partnership services and business incubation efforts. MAGNET is a "one-stop shop" for manufacturers and entrepreneurs seeking the resources to become or remain globally competitive. For more information, visit or call Linda Barita at 216-391-7766.

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