What can we learn from Chinese innovation?

Huawei_Ascend_Y300At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas Huawei showed off innovative new smartphone platforms that it has designed in-house.

Smart phone company Xiaomi, compared to Apple for its marketing strategy and loyal following, is expected to sell more than 15 million phones this year, reports McKinsey & Company.

Chinese scientists have built the world’s fastest supercomputer, capable of performing 33.86 quadrillion operations per second, surpassing the US Titan supercomputer. The Tianhe-2, or Milkyway 2, will benefit Chinese sciences and industries and provide sound infrastructure for the growing global demands of big data processing.

If you ask people on the street what they think of Chinese products, they might refer to what they know and experience. In South Africa that could be clothing and textiles where China has packed a powerful punch to the local overpriced products with their Byzantine cost structures.

Prices side, most people would raise the issue of quality of Chinese manufactured products. Quality has been poor in many instances but these days quality is good enough. If it wasn’t, you wouldn’t have the growth in Chinese supermalls in the country.

In the 1970s the Japanese manufactured low quality products that sometimes was fare for jokes. But that all changed in the 1980s when the Japanese moved up the quality ladder. Today many Japanese products are so well made that you are lucky if you are able to afford them.

I’m not saying the Chinese manufacturers will produce high-quality on a huge scale overnight. My point is that Chinese manufacturers are moving into product categories with higher quality requirements and are seeing opportunities for product innovation. This will lead to superior performance and quality in “Made in China” products.

How long will it take is anybody’s guess. But the Chinese model for innovation is showing more willingness to go directly from development to manufacturing and shipping products. This would be based on “already-known” or “highly anticipated” customer orders, says McKinsey.

The traditional innovation process is: create, test, refine, develop, produce, market and sell. Going straight to development has the advantage of speed but can result in quality problems, waste in the development process and misjudging demand.

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