Ideas from consumers

U4 GI Ideas from consumers
Ideas from consumers
Before you read
Can you think of some recent innovative products which are on the market?
Read the article from the Financial Times and answer the questions.
How ordinary people generate great ideas
Simon London
Working out where great ideas come from is one of the big puzzles of the modern
management. Corporate research laboratories and in-house product development groups are
only part of the answer. Innovative products and processes can come from start-ups,
competitors, university campuses and ordinary employees.
Eric von Hippel, a professor of management of innovation at the Massachusetts Institute of
Technology, has spent three decades studying the role played by customers in shaping new
products. The results are nicely summarised in Democratizing Innovation, a useful book on
what he calls 'user-centered innovation'.
For example, people who do extreme sports such as windsurfing or ice-climbing, play a
significant role in the development of equipment which is then mass-produced by
manufacturers. Surgical equipment companies are often led towards new products by surgeons
who operate using the equipment.
Users are often the first to develop many, and perhaps most, new industrial and commercial
products. For example, 3M, the industrial products group, has programmes in place to collect
ideas generated by key users. Von Hippel found that these products at 3M were likely to be
more innovative, enjoy higher market share, have greater potential to develop into an entire
product line.
Mass-producing products developed by key users is only one possible approach. Alternatives
include selling toolkits with which customers can build their own creations. For example,
International Flavors & Fragrances supplies customers with the tools to design their own food
flavours. Users themselves develop the products.
These examples revolutionise the traditional division of labour between producer and
consumer. Democratizing Innovation shows that the flow of ideas and expertise is more
1. True or false ?
a) Most new ideas come from in-house research.
b) It took Eric von Hippel three years to write his book.
c) People who go windsurfing have helped to create new products.
d) Surgeons are unlikely to be involved in product development.
e) 3M users consumers' ideas to create new products.
f) Von Hippel believes that user-led products are often better than those developed inside a
g) Some companies use toolkits to design their products.
h) The division of labour between product and consumer has changed.
U4 GI Ideas from consumers
2. Choose the correct alternative for the word in italics.
a) A puzzle ( line 2) is something which is
i) difficult to understand.
ii) very interesting.
b) A decade (line 15) is a period of
i) five years.
ii) ten years.
c) A key user (line 44) is
i) an important consumer.
ii) the market leader.
d) If you revolutionise something (line 54), you
i) modify it a little.
ii) change it completely.
e) If something is complex (line 59), it is quite
i) complicated.
ii) big.
Over to you
Work in small groups and think of a product you would like to improve.
Discuss how you can improve it, explaining:
 why you think it needs changing
 what idea(s) you have
 what benefits the change(s) will bring.