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Innovation ... and Gen Y

First up, I'm a bit surprised by the results of our current online poll, which asks: "What is U.S. manufacturing's biggest competitive advantage?" (If you haven't cast your vote already, please do!)

As of today, innovation was the No. 1 choice of respondents, garnering 29% of the votes.

Workforce was No. 2, with 21% of the votes, followed by quality with 18%.

Why do I say I'm surprised?

Well, it's not that I'm ignorant of America's rich history of technological and industrial innovation. It's just that lately I've been hearing a lot about how the United States has lost its edge in innovation -- or at least is in danger of losing its edge to countries such as China.

It's good to see that people still believe innovation is a key strength of U.S. manufacturing.

Innovating with Gen Y

How do managers inspire Gen Y workers to innovate within an organization?

During a panel discussion at the Center for Automotive Research's Management Briefing Seminars, Toyota's Jim Lentz explained that the approach needs to be different than the tack taken with baby boomers.

"The real key is to be able to keep that spirit when [Gen Y workers] come into a big organization, because we have a tendency of driving that spirit out of people by having them conform to policies that were basically developed to motivate baby boomers," said Lentz, president and CEO of Toyota Motor Sales USA Inc.

For example, when a manager asks a baby boomer to do something, the boomer usually wants to know what it is and when it's due.

When a manager asks a millennial to do something, Lentz continued, the millennial wants to know why.

"Because they want to make sure that what they're doing adds value," he said.

Lentz -- who asserted that Gen Y is "no doubt the brightest generation we've ever seen" -- admitted that it takes a bit more time to explain why. But the dividends are worth it.

"If you don't put handcuffs on them on exactly what you want accomplished, [and] if they understand the why, they will innovate and provide you information beyond what your expectations are," he said.

TAGS: Innovation
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