Continuous improvement and competitive pressure in the presence of discrete innovation
Does competitive pressure foster innovation? Technical progress consists of numerous small improvements made upon the existing technology continuous improvement and innovative activities aiming at entirely new technology (discrete innovation). Continuous improvement is often of limited relevance to the new technology invented by successful discrete innovation. By capturing this interplay, our model predicts that, in contrast to previous theoretical findings, an increase in competitive pressure measured by product substitutability may decrease firms' incentives to conduct continuous improvement. Continuous improvement had been regarded as an important source of strength in Japanese manufacturing until the 1980s. However, several studies have found that levels of continuous improvement have recently decreased in a number of Japanese manufacturing firms. Through field research at two Japanese firms, we demonstrate the real-world relevance and usefulness of the model which offers new insights on possible mechanisms behind the declining focus on continuous improvement in Japan.
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