The Future of Innovation: The Rise of the Creative Customer

Not only is innovation a hot topic, it is a survival requirement for most 21st century companies.  Traditionally, companies have innovated by sending out market researchers to discover “unmet needs” among their customers. These researchers report back. The company decides which ideas to develop and hands them over to project-development teams. Studies suggest that about three-quarters of such projects fail. The company I work for is employing this approach in its innovation efforts.

I stumbled upon this outstanding article from the Economist (March, 2006) which presents several cases where companies have taken a new approach to innovation.  Instead of taking the temperature of a representative sample of customers and designing projects around those insights, these firms invite their customers to participate directly in the innovation process.

Eric Von Hippel of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who is about to publish a book, “Democratising Innovation” (MIT Press) says, “Such innovation has a “much higher rate of success”.

This seems like a natural progression to me, given the rise of the “Generation C” and “Customer Made” trends. Businesses are starting to realize that their customers are ready and willing to help them design a better product/service/experience and they are willing to do it for free.  All we have to do is ask them.

The Economist article is here.


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