From "Running Out of Time," a report from Columbia University's 74th American Assembly (Nov. 19-22):

Once leaders in the world, American companies have lost command of markets to international competitors. . . .

The {stock market} crash has at least shocked the system back to reality and focused the attention of U.S. business again. There is a growing realization that the broader problems of the economy will have to be solved at the level of the business firm. . . .

{A}fter hearing from experts for three days, we have collected some basic principles of what makes a firm competitive . . .:

Quality. This does not mean quality merely to specifications but . . . quality that is characterized by constant innovations that create a loyal customer. It means achieving this attitude from top to bottom, from the board room to the factory floor.

Low-cost. . . . It may seem cheaper to shove as many products or services out as fast as possible, but if quality is ignored, the cost in rework, scrap, supervision and, most of all, disappointed customers will be more expensive than any business can bear.

Customer-driven. . . . The business exists not merely to satisfy the customers' needs today but to anticipate their needs of tomorrow.

Employee involvement. The successful business no longer sees employees as a cost of production but as a resource for production. . . . long-term commitment of and to workers is at least, if not more, important than machinery or technology. . . . and they must also be able to share in the gains.

Continuous improvement. This means . . . changing our attitude from America's traditional "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" to "If it ain't perfect, don't leave it."