Eric von Hippel wrote the entry entitled “An Emerging Hotbed of User-Centered Innovation“.
Eric von Hippel is the T Wilson Professor of Innovation Management at MIT’s Sloan School of Management in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and the scientific director of the Danish User-Centered Innovation Lab in Copenhagen. He is the author of Democratizing Innovation (MIT Press, 2005).
“In an array of industries, producer-centered innovation is being eclipsed by user-centered innovationâ€”the dreaming up, development, prototyping, and even production of new products by consumers. These users arenâ€™t just voicing their needs to companies that are willing to listen; theyâ€™re inventing and often building what they want.”
“[…] This process of usersâ€™ coming up with products is increasingly well documented, and some companies, at least, are actively trying to take advantage of it. But what about governments?”
“[…] Government support has typically come in the form of R&D grants for scientific researchers and R&D tax credits for manufacturers. This focus on technology push has not attracted much controversy. But recent research shows that the 70% to 80% of new product development that fails does so not for lack of advanced technology but because of a failure to understand usersâ€™ needs. The emergence of user-centered innovation clearly shows that this near-exclusive focus on technological advance is misplaced.”
“Denmark is taking this sea change in the nature of innovation to heart. 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.'”
“By championing a new innovation paradigm, the Danish government is encouraging numerous methodological flowers to bloomâ€”from programs that improve manufacturersâ€™ understanding of usersâ€™ needs (through ethnographic research, for example) to techniques for identifying user-developed innovations that manufacturers can produce.”
Duncan J. Watts wrote another thought-provoking essay, “The Accidental Influentials,” in which he argues that “social epidemics” are not in large part driven by the actions of a tiny minority of special individuals, as is the dominant belief.
“We studied the dynamics of social contagion by conducting thousands of computer simulations of populations, manipulating a number of variables relating to peopleâ€™s ability to influence others and their tendency to be influenced.”
“Our work shows that the principal requirement for what we call â€œglobal cascadesâ€â€”the widespread propagation of influence through networksâ€”is the presence not of a few influentials but, rather, of a critical mass of easily influenced people, each of whom adopts, say, a look or a brand after being exposed to a single adopting neighbor. Regardless of how influential an individual is locally, he or she can exert global influence only if this critical mass is available to propagate a chain reaction.”
Understanding that trends in public opinion are driven not by a few influentials influencing everyone else but by many easily influenced people influencing one another should change how companies incorporate social influence into their marketing campaigns. Because the ultimate impact of any individualâ€”highly influential or notâ€”depends on decisions made by people one, two, or more steps away from her or him, word-of-mouth marketing strategies shouldnâ€™t focus on finding supposed influentials. Rather, marketing dollars might better be directed toward helping large numbers of ordinary peopleâ€”possibly with Web-based social networking toolsâ€”to reach and influence others just like them.”
Duncan J. Watts is a professor of sociology at Columbia University in New York. He is the author of Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age (Norton, 2003)
(via Bruno Giussani’s Lunch over IP)