Where Does Innovation Occur?

by novel_admin on June 27, 2011

We all have the image in our mind of the lone genius working away in his garage until some moment when he yells “Eureka” and a game changer product is created. A product that changes all of our lives.  This image has been further engrained in our minds when we think about Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs or countless other CEOs that give the impression of having solely developed a product line that makes their company what it is today.

But is this really how innovation happens?  As early as 1984, Time Magazine described, “The profusion of free software [which] is an outgrowth of the camaraderie that developed in the mid-’70s, when personal computers were new and commercial software was scarce. Pioneer users, sharing their breakthroughs and building on one an other’s work…” Software was built out of collaborative efforts of users all over the world. In fact, even the Internet would not exist without the free-flowing knowledge-share.  This type of collaborative innovation doesn’t only occur in the realm of software, and  it actually is actually challenging  a core tenet of economic theory; that producers, not consumers are the ones that innovate.

It has long been a theory that innovation occurs primarily in the industrial and business sectors. After all, they are highly motivated to sell products. However, a recent breakthough research document, financed by the British govermentm has been released that clearly shows that the traditional demarcation line between innovators and consumers is breaking down. Consumers everywhere are taking their user-experience into their own hands. From creating their own scanners, to developing the Twitter retweets, to educational products–users take what they are given and improve, change and modify to make products work for them. So you may be thinking “yeah, yeah but surely most innovation still occurs in-house in businesses?” Well, Mr. von Hippel, an innovation researcher, estimates that when it comes to scientific instruments 77% of the innovations come from users. 77 percent.

This information has far-reaching ramifications on public-policy towards innovation. If innovation occurs more readily in an open-source environment perhaps this is the direction that the government should be placing R&D dollars? Additionally, as lawsuits abound now that  users are involving themselves in product development there are calls to rethink intellectual property law.



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