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On Customer-lead Innovation

The terms co-creation, collaborative innovation, user lead innovation, crowdsourcing all refer to a process whereby consumers lead the product development process, often as product designers. In fact, the DIY (do it yourself) trend may be seen as part of a larger trend some refer to as the "Maker Movement".

In the past, this may have appeared far-fetched and impractical, more akin to handing the asylum keys to the inmates. But in our interconnected age, many firms have realised the potency of tapping into the energy and passion found among particular user groups. Indeed, there is a compelling logic behind turning consumers into product designers and that it can be done if they’re provided the right toolkits to do so.

MIT Professor Eric von Hippel is one of the leading academics who have dissected this trend - exploring the practical methods that individuals, open user communities as well as irms can apply to improve their innovation development processes. He talks about distributed and free innovation, with lead user communities at the forefront. These are groups or networks of enthusiasts who first feel the need for a product or service and go about creating it themselves. Companies now invest in lead user identification in the quest to tap into this dynamic - giving companies crucial insight on their own needs and, by extension, to the broader user base.

In the area of healthcare, for instance, one of the most potent pools of innovative thinking is patients themselves (or their close kin). They are truly invested in trying to find ways to find solutions to the problems they face in a wide range of therapeutic areas.

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