Consumers Leading The Way To Product Innovation

Consumers Leading The Way To Product Innovation

Recent research suggests that it is the users and not product manufacturers that are creating innovative changes.

Naresh Kumar
  • 11 february 2011

For quite some time, economists and governments believed that innovation came from the producers and not consumers. But recent times have shown how customers are taking the lead into product innovation, improving and customizing them to their own needs. In his research, Professor Eric A. Von Hippel too found that individual consumers in the UK are spending more money to improve products they own than British companies spend on R & D.

Such innovations range from really small modifications to highly complex ones, and thanks to the Internet and open-source platforms, people are learning and collaborating to bring new changes or outright inventing new products.

New York Times reports on such user innovations like the DIY Book Scanner and the ice hammer with leash, both of which stemmed out from certain limitations of existing products in the market. It adds:

Mr. von Hippel, who has been researching innovation for 30 years, estimates that when it comes to scientific instruments 77 percent of the innovations come from users. Fields like medicine can be particularly fertile for creative tinkering. A classic example of user innovation is the heart-lung machine. In the late 1930s Dr. John Heysham Gibbon approached manufacturers about building one, but they did not know how to do it or whether there was a market for it. So Dr. Gibbon spent years developing one himself before this essential device was manufactured commercially.

Sport enthusiasts, like windsurfers, cyclists and fly fishermen, commonly modify equipment. William W. Fisher III, a Harvard law professor and an active ice climber, was one of the enthusiasts who in the 1970s had the idea of adding a leash to ice hammers and axes so they could hang on them while climbing frozen waterfalls. Other climbers followed suit. In time, manufacturers incorporated the leashes into their products.

Eric A. Von Hippel

NY Times: “Innovation Far Removed From the Lab”

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