“If you have ever come up with a work-around or improvement for a balky product only to find that it performs better than the original, you are not alone. Eric von Hippel proffers multiple examples where an ordinary user, frustrated or even desperate, solves a problem through innovation. His research found innovative users playing with all manner of product: mountain bikes, library IT systems, agricultural irrigation, and scientific instruments. Often, manufacturers keep at armâ€™s length from these inventions. He describes the Lego company â€œstanding like a deer in headlightsâ€ when technologically adept adults discovered they could design their own sophisticated Lego robots. User communities arise, freely communicate with each other, advance ideas and sometimes even â€œdrive the manufacturer out of product design,â€ according to von Hippel. This widely distributed inventing bug is a good trend, believes von Hippel, because users â€œtend to make things that are functionally novel.â€ Not only is it â€œfreeing for individualsâ€ but it also creates a â€œfree commonsâ€ of product ideas, parallel to the more restrictive world of intellectual property governed by less creative manufacturers.”
On Von Hippel’s website, you can also find some video tutorials on the topic of “lead user” studies.
(via Business Innovation 2005)