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Users May or May Not be Innovators, But They’re Darn Creative

userinsight-37-200x300Is Lead User Innovation and Co-Creation “taking over the world”?

Patricia Cohen, writer for The New York Times, suggests that the answer is yes in her recent piece, “Innovation Far Removed from the Lab.” In the article, Cohen highlights the work of Eric A. von Hippel, a professor of technological innovation at M.I.T.’s Sloan School of Management. Von Hippel defines ‘lead users’ as users of a product or service that currently experience needs unknown to the larger public; in other words, “early adopters.”  A paper written by von Hippel (currently under review) points to evidence that suggests that more and more users are acting as innovators. The paper notes that the amount of money individuals spent making and improving products was more than twice that spent by British firms on product research and development over a three year period.  Such innovations or customizations could range from adding purchased or make-shift accessories to re-painting or otherwise altering, reconfiguring or modifying the product.

Our CEO, Eric V. Holtzclaw, reflected upon this personalization phenomenon a couple of months ago here on our blog – click here to read.  In that post, Eric pointed out that we’re moving from a mass customization model to an experience economy, one in which users expect a personalized customer experience and product; and if they don’t get it, they’ll just figure out how to “jail break” it and post the “how-to” on YouTube.

No doubt about it, the explosion of Web 2.0 has rapidly increased users’ appetite for all things customizable and their desire to engage with products, brands and each other. Users of popular social media tools like Twitter and Facebook are quick to make suggestions about features and functionality and their suggestions are often adopted. Additionally, CRM giant SalesForce.com embraced lead user innovation to aid in the development of a “build-your-own” SalesForce.com model.

However, the question remains, are users simply personalizing their products or are they acting as true innovators?

Will the evolution of customization and co-creation lead to greater and greater numbers of lead user innovations?

I’d be interested to hear your take – please share your comments!