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*Editors note: This is a book excerpt, published with permission from MK Press. Buy the book here.

The most profound innovation since the assembly line is staring us right in the face. But we don't see it because we are so busy looking for something else. For most of us the word "innovation" still conjures up images of amazing new gadgets such as technology to turn water into gasoline, black boxes to project moving 3D holograms from our TV sets, and bio-tech breakthroughs that reverse the aging process.

Of course, some of these things will come to pass. But in our fixation on individual gadgets we are missing an innovation that is based on process more than it is on technology. A hundred years ago there was a similar process-based innovation in business that was so profound it became the basis for the economy of the industrial age. That process was the assembly line.

The assembly line and industrial technology are so intertwined in most people's minds that they do not realize industrial technology had been in widespread use for 50 or 60 years before the assembly line was introduced. It was the process innovation called the assembly line and not new technology that brought our current consumer economy into existence.

The next wave of innovation and productivity will again be based on process and not new technology. A combination of processes that are coming to be collectively known as the "real-time enterprise" will become the basis for our economy in the information age. The real-time enterprise is an organization that employs a set of processes enabled by existing information technology and an organizational structure that allows it to acquire and act on up-to-date information to continually improve existing operations and devise new operations as opportunities arise.

Markets are constantly moving. Product life cycles are measured in months or a few years, no longer in decades. Companies cannot fine-tune their operations to fit some present set of conditions and then expect to simply run those operations unchanged for years and years. That was the old industrial model and that model no longer yields the profits we seek. We need something much more responsive--something that constantly adjusts to changes and opportunities.


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