The power of suggestion has taken on a new meaning for American corporations as increased competition forces them to look for cost-cutting measures from within.

The old employee suggestion box is getting a workout, and companies are rewarding innovative ideas handsomely.The National Association of Suggestion Systems says its 900 member companies saved more than $2 billion last year as a result of their employees' suggestion programs. Workers received a total of $150 million in award payments for suggestions adopted.

One of those employees was Edward H. Anderson, 51, of Yorba Linda, Calif., who was named the association's "Suggester of the Year" at the organization's annual conference in Orlando this week.

Anderson, a scientist for Hughes Aircraft Co., submitted ideas that resulted in cost-saving improvements totaling $22 million in 1987, company officials said.

The company program does not provide for direct financial rewards, but "there's a direct relationship between your suggestions and your salary raises," Anderson says.

One of his suggestions saved about 15,000 hours of technician labor annually. Another lightened the weight of satellites, cutting down on launch costs.

"When you come up with a really good idea, you know you did something important," Anderson said Thursday. "It's my way of keeping on top of the Christmas tree."

Anderson, who works in the materials and process laboratory of Hughes' Space and Communications Group, is a compulsive suggester. In his 14 years of employment, he has submitted 200 ideas, with half of them adopted. Hughes said the total cost savings amounted to $75 million.

Runner-up Richard Makaiwi recommended the use of a pneumatic underground piercing tool for installation of natural gas services to customers of Pacific Gas & Electric Co. in San Jose, Calif.

The suggestion will provide an estimated savings of more than $1 million in each of the next five years. It also enriched Makaiwi's bank account by $25,000.