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Saturday, May 28, 2005

New Dimensions In Fostering Innovation

HBSWK reviews the well written book by Eric Von Hipple titled Democratising Innovation. Excerpts:

The seeds of innovation are changing today.Thanks to ever more powerful technology, users are increasingly modifying, improving upon, and developing on top of the products they buy—everything from windsurfing boards to custom chips.Democratizing Innovation looks at which users are likely to innovate, why they decide to build it themselves rather than buy an improvement, the tradition of user-innovators who freely reveal their innovations, and how manufacturers can tap into this creativity. "Users’ ability to innovate is improving radically and rapidly as a result of the steadily improving quality of computer software and hardware, improved access to easy-to-use tools and components for innovation, and access to a steadily richer innovation commons," says the author.
As a result, manufacturers must change their mindset from "Let’s find a need and fill it" to "Let’s find and commercialize innovations that our users have developed." Writes von Hippel: "A variety of manufacturers have found it profitable to shift the tasks of custom product design to their customers along with appropriate toolkits for innovation."
Exaples of products benefitting out of such user-centered innovation : The customer-centric products 3M has worked on include a new approach to preventing infections from surgery; a pioneering use of audio, video, and remote data access in electronic test and communication equipment; a novel approach to applying commercial graphics films such as those that provide advertising wrapped around buses; and more effective and environmentally safe packing materials.

Todd. S highlights some pieces from the book:
- Minor innovations are cumulatively responsible for much or most technical progress. Hollander (1965) found that about 80 percent of unit cost reduction in Rayon manufacture were the cumulative result of minor technical changes.
- One major business of Nestle FoodServices where chefs interested in using the Nestle toolkit to prototype a novel Mexican sauce( speaking different languages) would receive a set of 20-30 ingredients, each in a separate plastic pouch. They would also be given instructions for the proper use of these ingredients. Toolkit users would then find that each component differs slightly from the fresh components he or she is used to. But such differences are discovered immediately through direct experience. The chef can then adjust ingredients and proportions to move to the desired final taste and texture desired. When a recipe based on toolkit components is finished, it can be immediately and precisely reproduced by Nestle factories...[R]esearchers showed that by adding the error=free translation feature to toolkit-based design by users reduced the time of custom food development from 26 weeks to 3 weeks by eliminating repeated redesign and refinement interactions between Nestle and purchasers of its custom food products. This is highlighted as innovation to beat the language barriers. An interesting book to read.

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