Lead Users, Lego, Must and Can

Interesting entry (Link) on Henry Jenkin’s blog today. It seems a little disjointed, as if it could have been a longer entry, but there’s some good stuff in it (and besides, it reads like I think). The first part of the post mentions Eric Von Hippel, author of Democratizing Innovation. I’ve heard about the book, but haven’t read it. Think I’ll find some time for it. Here’s some incentive from Jenkin’s post:

Basically, Von Hippel is arguing that companies need to identify what he is calling Lead Users — these are both early adopters (in the sense that they are quick to purchase new products) and early adapters (in the sense that they often hack the products to retrofit them for their specialized needs.) By dealing with these communities and understanding how they appropriate and remake products, these companies can accelerate the design process, anticipating uses and desired features before the product even hits the mass market.

After this the entry moves into discussing Lego, about whom (which?) I’ve previously posted elsewhere (Link). Lego is without doubt an amazingly savvy company, so while there wasn’t much new for me to read there, it’s always good to be reminded of Lego.

In any case, the post winds up getting to the big issue:

That said, the interview keeps circling back around what is the real sticking point in the conversation about lead user innovation: if consumers are helping to generate the intellectual property and helping to market the product, shouldn’t they receive some economic return on their participation? Lund says No — that this would fundamentally change their relationship to the company, turning everything back to work for hire and returning it to the “must culture” that shapes corporate life. Yet, skeptics might note that user-generated content taken to its logical extreme would result in cutbacks in the creative labor market as experienced professionals are displaced by grassroots volunteers.

This reminds me of my comments about the Neuros bounty (reLink). It also sounds a little like some other comments I’ve posted elsewhere with regard to the impact all of this may have on the design community. Personally, I’ll be happy to see things shaken up a bit (a lot)… just so long as it’s not some company gaming a community for trivial prize money; that doesn’t go over well with me. Unfortunately I figure that’ll be the case and become fairly common: designers regularly volunteering for table scraps.

Yeah, we’ll see this. Harnessing a bunch of volunteers instead of paying a consulting firm sounds like something a lot of companies are going to want to try.