Thursday, April 21, 2005

Democratizing Innovation

Released under CC license and on MIT Press 2005, here's Eric Von Hippel's manuscript for Democratizing Innovation, which argues that we should be paying attention to "lead users" to see what they do with our products. Lead users "are defined as members of a user population having two distinguishing characteristics: (1) They are at the leading edge of an important market trend(s), and so are currently experiencing needs that will later be experienced by many users in that market. (2) They anticipate relatively high benefits from obtaining a solution to their needs, and so may innovate.

6 comments :

Celestial Weasel said...

I think this is a nice idea in principle, but in practice you have to be very careful. In my experience such people often
a) want to do weird and unrepresentative things i.e. things that no-one else or very few users want to do or will ever want to do
and/or
b) are pursuing their own hidden agendas i.e. they are trying to 'hitch a ride' on your software within their organisation
and/or
c) are the sort of people who are incapable of give and take i.e. they will never be happy unless they get EXACTLY what they think they want
and/or
are just plain barking

There are of course honourable exceptions - some of the ones I deal with at my current job are very sensible

Lynn said...

Yeah, I actually agree with your concern. I probably should've digested that book more before linking to it -- especially since I'm a very hype-averse person in general. This is a real theme-du-jour in the climate right now. At TiVo, for example, we always eyed very carefully the hacks done for hacks' sake by the AV geeks-- no way would we have said "hey it's cool so it must be something everyone and their Mom would pay for!" I wouldn't in any world listen to the early adopter ubergeeks when developing a solid business plan.

Brian said...

In the book Von Hippel says, "lead users are defined as members of a user population having two distinguishing characteristics: (1) They are at the leading edge of an important market trend(s), and so are currently experiencing needs that will later be experienced by many users in that market. (2) They anticipate relatively high benefits from obtaining a solution to their needs, and so may innovate."

Thus, to his mind they would be trend-sensors and proto-ionnovators, not necessarily the Alpha User who will demand the first spot in line, and possibly contribute least. As has been noted, finding real *lead* users is not so easy in practice.

Does anyone know if Von Hippel's Toolkit approach is a successful way to surface lead users? It sounds good in theory, but hard to implement in a real-time corporate context.

Brian said...

Gee, I just realized that what I quoted from Von Hippel's book was exactly what you quoted in your original post. Forgive me for being so dumb.

Lynn said...

Hi Brian,
No idea, good question! I'd guess you could make some categorizations of users from looking into it and classifying their usage and feedback. The ones doing significant modifications to achieve goals that look reasonable and broadly applicable would be my first guess at who to consider "leaders" for this purpose.

OTOH, the ones who hacked together a tool to make their toaster work remotely via a mobile device are probably just hacker weirdos :-)

I'll keep an eye out for more on this...

Brian said...

Hi Lynn,
I really did appreciate the Von Hippel link. I had some older bits of his in various pdf's, and it's nice to have something current and coherent. I'm looking for ways to expand his concept of "lead user." The lead users I want are those who can jump context.