Book Review: Democratizing Innovation – Eric von Hipple

Categories: Book Reviews

The democratization of innovation, according to von Hipple, means that users of products and services – as individuals and firms – are able to innovate for themselves, and that this user-centric approach is significantly better that classic manufacturer-centric methods. The concept is that users have a better grasp of what they value from a product or service, and that companies should develop systematic methods to tap into and encourage these user-driven improvements.

While I was reading the book, I found myself mixing lime juice into a glass of Perrier water, thus creating a new invention of my own. It was only later that week that I found that Perrier indeed had such a product, albeit with about 10% of the lime juice I had added by myself.

The book describes many key concepts: users will be willing to invest their own time with little direct reward, they tend to openly share their discoveries rather than try to protect them. I felt somewhat let down in the way that the argument for the user-centric approach was based on very niche applications (extreme caving, anyone?), and then extrapolated to almost all areas of activity. And that old chestnut of open source software development reared its head again, as though every industry on the planet, from casket making to pet stores can benefit from the fabulous financial success that is Linux (or did I miss something).

On balance there are many merits to a balanced use to this approach (we are trying out several methods based on the advice ourselves in our own business), and tools based on this work will quickly find their way into everyday innovation use. All in all, a good, deep, brainy read to point you in new directions.

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