It seems paradoxical to me that the most successful company on the face of the earth over the last decade, one that has been successful because of their astonishingly good product design, have not leveraged that innovative capacity into their operational design.
I refer of course to Apple, whose profit in the December 2011 quarter was $13.3 Billion, and they became, again, the most valuable company in the world.
Around the developed world, and increasingly elsewhere, it seems consumers are developing a conscience, they care about more than just product performance, and are evolving to make purchase decisions that includes some consideration of the “integrity” of the product concerned, from organic food, to sports shoes, to coffee, and now to electronics and gadgets.
Innovation is way more than just making the products better, it is also about making the supporting structures better, improving the whole operational chain, not just the consumer facing end.
Imagine the innovation Apple could bring to the manufacturing supply chains they employ if they took a small piece of their enormous and well deserved profits from their product design, and focused on operational design. Instead of observers using Toyota Production System as the benchmark, in 10 years it would be the APS, Apple Production System, and their profits would have soared again.
Oh, by the way, if Apple managed to create an APS, their improved profits would come not just from their superior design of the whole value chain, their APS, but because consumers do truly care about the integrity of what they buy. In that event, a few of the building blocks for a re-emergence of manufacturing as a economic driver in the US and Europe would be put into place.