Reveries has a great article today about several companies that are co-creating products with their customers.
About three-quarters of attempts at innovation fail because of the way corporations go about it, says Eric Von Hippel of M.I.T., as reported by in The Economist (3/10/05). According to Eric, who is also about to publish a book called Democratizing Innovation, the mistake is that the firms typically send market researchers out into the field to identify "unmet needs" and then turn the results over to product-development teams. He says they should instead identify "the few special customers who innovate" and invite them in to brainstorm the possibilities. That's the way GE's healthcare does it. GE calls these special customers "luminaries" and they meet regularly to discuss GE's latest technologies and how to turn them into products.
...Staples held "a competition among customers to come up with new ideas. It got 8,300 submissions.
...Two years ago, BMW "posted a toolkit on its website" that allowed its customers to suggest ways in which the carmaker "could take advantage of advances in telematic and in-car online services." About 15 of the 1,000 customers who used the kit were invited to meet with BMW's engineers in Munich and some of the resulting ideas are now in concept stage.
...Back in 1997, Lego was about three weeks away from launching a "build-it-yourself robot development system" called Mindstorm, when about 1,000 hackers "downloaded its operating system, vastly improved it, and posted their work freely online. After a long stunned silence, Lego appears to have accepted the merits of this community's work: programs written in hacker language may now be uploaded to the Mindstorms, mindstorms.lego.com, website.
In any case, as Eric Von Hippel notes, the concept doesn't cost much because many customers consider being "listened to" compensation enough. As BMW's Jeorg Reimann explains: "They were so happy to be invited by us, and that our technical experts were interested in their ideas. They didn't want any money."