Democratizing Innovation

POSTED: April 21, 2005
  posted an article on Tuesday 19 April 2005 which looked at the reason the open source software movement has been successful. The reason, it argues, is because it taps into the power of user innovation.

The article is based on an interview with Eric von Hippel, professor at MIT’s Sloan School of Management.

He examines the shift to user-centered innovation in a new book, Democratizing Innovation, which argues that manufacturers should redesign their processes to systematically seek out user ideas and innovations. The book suggests that:

By drawing on the creativity of lead users, who are often ahead of the curve on technology and marketplace trends, companies can improve the chances that their new products will be commercially viable, von Hippel maintains. The open sourc development model in the computer software field is quickly spreading to other sectors, as communities of users help aircraft builders design passenger jets and banks to structure loan and investment offerings.

“Companies are not used to this,” he observed. “They’re used to the traditional model of find-a-need-and-fill-it. They’ve set up structures to do that, and their structures are geared toward getting rid of the lead users as outliers. But now they’re confronted with this new model of innovation where everyone follows the lead users.”

This is not necessarily new information, but it is interesting to see it being schematised and turned into passing wisdom.