Donal Reddington on mass customization, crowdsourcing and digital manufacturing

User-Centred Innovation on HBR Breakthrough Ideas for 2007

The Harvard Business Review has published its list of ‘Breakthrough Ideas for 2007‘. Included on the list is ‘An Emerging Hotbed of User-Centered Innovation’, which is described by Eric Von Hippel, who first described the ‘Lead User’ concept twenty years ago.

Von Hippel notes that:

“In an array of industries, producer-centered innovation is being eclipsed by user-centered innovation—the dreaming up, development, prototyping, and even production of new products by consumers. These users aren’t just voicing their needs to companies that are willing to listen; they’re inventing and often building what they want.”

He notes that many items that are commonplace today were invented by users, such as heart-lung machine and automated drug pumps (invented by doctors), energy drinks and gels (invented by athletes).

Von Hippel notes that “70% to 80% of new product development that fails does so not for lack of advanced technology but because of a failure to understand users’ needs.”

He finds a new trend in government moving to encourage user-centric technological research. In 2005, the Danish government became the first in the world to establish as a national priority, in the words of a government policy statement, “strengthening user-centered innovation.”

Ways in which this is done include:

“Programs that improve manufacturers’ understanding of users’ needs (through ethnographic research, for example) to techniques for identifying user-developed innovations that manufacturers can produce. Successful approaches will be studied in Danish business schools and shared with interested Danish firms.”

Von Hippel believes that, if this paradigm shift is successful in Denmark, many other nations will follow their example.

Part of the initiative is the Danish User-Centered Innovation Lab. This is hosted by Copenhagen Business School and staffed by professors from both CBS and the Aarhus School of Business. The goal of the Danish User-Centered Innovation Lab is to help bring Danish firms to the world forefront with respect to the profitable exploitation of leading-edge user-centered methods for product and service development.

Firms initially participating in the Danish User-Centered Innovation Lab are Bang & Olufsen, Coloplast, Danisco, Lego, Novo Nordisk and IO Interactive. From May 2006, innovation experts from these firms and Danish and MIT academics have been working collaboratively to develop and implement world-class user-centered innovation practices. Best practices that are developed will then be diffused broadly to any interested Danish firms – ranging from the largest to small and medium-sized enterprises.

The Lab is modeled on the functioning of the MIT Innovation Lab, which has been directed by Professor von Hippel himself since 1995.

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