Today, I’m presenting a workshop on Lead User Innovation. Lead User is a term coined by MIT Professor, Eric von Hippel. In his book, Democratizing Innovation, he explains it in detail. The gist of the concept is that people, who are at what’s called the fuzzy front end of innovation, modify existing products for personal gain. If you find those people and those innovations, you can invent products with a longer life cycle. Plus, they will spur further innovation because they are rich in their functionality.
The first thing to understand with regard to this is that not all users innovate. Users in a jam do. Mountain climbers used to wedge pieces of metal in the crevices of rocks so that they could secure ropes. Those users needed the extra security it would offer. We now call those climbing pitons. The result of that over time is that manufacturers have innovated from that original concept. Manufacturer innovation is about making money off of them. Now, we have thousands of related climbing accessories to buy.
Another mountain climbing invention, the caribiner, is now ubiquitous for holding all kinds of stuff.User innovations solve problems. Manufacturer innovations are intended to make money. The issue with manufacturer innovations is that they don’t always solve problems. A razor with five blades actually is bad for your skin.