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  • What is Outside Innovation?
    It’s when customers lead the design of your business processes, products, services, and business models. It’s when customers roll up their sleeves to co-design their products and your business. It’s when customers attract other customers to build a vital customer-centric ecosystem around your products and services. The good news is that customer-led innovation is one of the most predictably successful innovation processes. The bad news is that many managers and executives don’t yet believe in it. Today, that’s their loss. Ultimately, it may be their downfall.

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      Eric von Hippel coined the term "lead users" to describe a group of both customers and non-customers who are passionate about getting certain things accomplished. They may not know or care about the products or services you offer. But they do care about their project or need. Lead users have already explored innovative ways to get things done. They're usually willing to share their approaches with others.
      I use the term "lead customers" to describe the small percentage of your current customers who are truly innovative. These may not be your most vocal customers, your most profitable customers, or your largest customers. But they are the customers who care deeply about the way in which your products or services could help them achieve something they care about.
      We’ve spent the last 25 years identifying, interviewing, selecting, and grouping customers together to participate in our Customer Scenario® Mapping sessions. Over the years, we’ve learned how to identify the people who will contribute the most to a customer co-design session. These are the same kinds of people you should be recruiting when you set out to harness customer-led innovation.
      You no longer win by having the smartest engineers and scientists; you win by having the smartest customers!
      In more than 25 years of business strategy consulting, we’ve found that customer co-design is a woefully under-used capability.
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    « Great Paper by Frank Piller and Susumu Ogawa on Threadless | Main | Happy New Year! »

    December 29, 2005


    Patty Seybold

    What a great idea! You should send it to Jimmy Wales--Wikipedia's founder...I'm not sure you should limit it to 3 students per teacher, or one article per student. There might be some folks who really excel in becoming experts on a topic and crystallizing it for the rest of us.

    I agree that having a signed Wikipedia article that is held in high regard would be a great credential for anyone to use.. whether in applying to college or on a resume...


    Dave Lance

    I propose that all high school teachers worldwide be empowered by their boards of trustees to offer an opportunity for three of their best and brightest students to earn an extra credit "A."

    The offer would be limited to three extra credit "A's" per school year, per teacher.

    The teacher would select the three students, and the subject matter for each project. The opportunity would unfold in two phases:

    (1.) Each participating student would study and learn the research standards applied to articles published in the Encyclopedia Brittanica. (Or perhaps the Columbia, or another, more suitable publication.) The student would study and learn the research principles and techniques, and demonstrate a firm grasp of them by passing a standardized test.

    (2.) The student would then apply these principles to produce a Wikipedia article. Strictly following the aforementioned standards, the student would perform and document the research. They would produce a complete and accurate set of citations and source references. They would explain how and where the information was gathered. They would then write a series of drafts which the teacher would review and edit. Finally, the student would publish a Wikipedia article based on their research. The final article would include all of the research documentation, citations, and a complete description of their research techniques. Both teacher and student would affix their names to the finished article.

    Everyone invoved could take pride in the articles that bear their names. Their accomplishment could be integrated into resumes, college applications, etc. National and International contests could be established to select the best articles for each school year. Wikipedia would certainly win, as would the students, teachers and their school districts.

    It would be a win-win all the way around, and it would - over time - add a level of credibility to Wikipedia that the current system simply does not warrant.

    Patty Seybold

    I LOVE your suggestion about having a single version of Wikipedia containing both the approved version and the comments/suggestions in a single place.

    That sounds like the right solution.


    Bardo N. Nelgen


    thanks for these acknowledging words. :-)

    Just some small add-ons to the two-versions concept:

    My reservstions towards the two-version Wikipedia originally resulted from interaction issues:

    How would you use such thing ?

    Look at the "trusted" version first, to get the facts right and then turn to the "open" version for more resources ? That would mean having to compare two almost identical articles literally phrase by phrase (the way changes in a wiki use to work...). I just would not consider this being too attractive to the user.

    So as a "lightweight" version of the trusted-authors-system, my proposal would be, having articles inside ONE version of Wikipedia, which contain "edit-protected" areas, that have been counter-checked (by whomever of the trusted editors) right inside each otherwise freely editable article. Maybe including some way to propose corrections to the peserved parts.

    This would preserve the open nature of the wiki-concept, while helping to ensure information-reliability.

    However I agree with you, that currently there is a lack of transparency, when it comes to WHO approves certain content.

    Maybe they could borrow some ideas from 'professional' publishing workflow software, which - in my opinion - has introduced some quite successful approaches towards community-based editing during the recent years.


    Patty Seybold

    What a wonderfully thoughtful commentary. You're absolutely correct that the issues that have gotten so much press with Wikipedia lately are not new, and probably were predictable.

    The pseudonymous registration sounds like a great idea. If people were trusted and vouched for, they probably would behave.

    I'm not convinced that the two version idea doesn't work. If there's still a completely fluid version that is being constantly updated, we wouldn't lose the currency.

    I have colleagues in the world of scholarly publications, where referees decide which articles are published and which are not. How do you become a referee? You write articles and get them published, then you apply to be a referee. Granted, that's too much of a hurdle for Wikipedia, but the idea
    of earning the right to approve articles for publication is a good one. It's akin to the practice in a number of open source development communities, in which the most respected contributors are the ones who vet others' contributions before they're "published."

    Today, there's no real visibility into the process of WHO approves Wikipedia entries, although there are very clear stages of quality control that submissions should go thru. It seems to me that by adding pseudonymous registration to submit, enabling anyone to contribute and/or revise, but adding a mechanism for people who are authorities in each subject matter area to be included in the final approval process for the "published" versions, Wikipedia could improve the quality of the collaborative output without sacrificing the level playing field for submissions.

    Thanks again for your thoughtful contribution!


    Bardo N. Nelgen

    Non-Collaborative Customers:
    Fighting Predictable Consequences

    The current awareness of quality loss of Wikipedia articles as much buzz - as it may generate at the moment - is not exactly a brandnew phenomenon, which has never happened before. Much more this has occured to DMOZ, Yahoo! and loads of others before and it can be observed at Google within every second.

    Trust. It's about who you trust to reliable and trustworthy.The degree of availlable trust, mainly depends on two factors.

    Scale. With added scale (number of units people, machines,... - involved) trust decreases.
    Control. If you want to keep trust at a certain level, you commonly can't avoid some sort of control.


    But why is trust going down at all ?

    People You Know
    If you are only a couple of people and know each other for some time, this is no big issue. You can quite safely make your personal assumptions who's trustworthy by talking to her or him and maybe to some people you both know. Since this is only possible if dealing with a quite small number of people.
    This is the situation at the beginning of almost any web project: you invite people you know and who may even know each other to try out your latest product or service.

    People Who Know You
    As the word is spreading about your idea, more and more people may enter, that you don't know and who you do not know in person either. But they have heard about you and your project from their friends or colleagues and therefore trust in their judgement towards product quality and reliability. These people also share a lot of the mindset of your first-grade testers so someone practising sabotage intentionally from within this group will be very unlikely either. Most of them will at least attempt to play by the rules (in Wikipedia terms: only publish facts they really know about and in case of doubt - can prove).
    This mindset-model may reach to fairly large scales as seen at many famous community projects on the web.

    People No One Really Knows
    However, as this thing gets bigger and (important!) gets influence on a certain market, people no one knows they may just know your thing from the press coverage start joining. Most of them will actually like your idea and do their best to help it spread and grow. Though they may not be as self-critical related to the quality of what they contribute, since, hey, no one knows them and they won't be held reliable for anything. (An issue which also relates to most types of anonymous customer survey, by the way.)
    And some of these folks may even have nothing at all in common with the ones recruited by the original spread of the idea. They follow their own goals, may even be competing with you. So they will traditionally start to figure out your weaknesses or how they could rope you in for their very own purposes.
    Unfortunately on a worldwide scale as on the web it's very hard to tell this last sort of people from all the others.


    Since we are living in a big bad world ;-) trust is an important issue to almost anything you do. But as you know, trust is decreasing with added scale - so you are deploying control-mechanisms to get you through your day on a somewhat assured basis.

    With People You Know…
    …this is easy. If someone you know or have at least been introduced to causes you harm or tells you lies, you can just confront him with his or her behavior right the next day. Also your trust towards the one who may have introduced this person to you may be affected. This procedure works for most everyday challenges on whom to trust. (Greetings to all Social Networking sites, at this point !)

    With People Who Know You…
    …this starts getting difficult. If the number (see 'scale' for details) is small enough, there may be enough people sharing your mindset, that may actively take in account somebody they may o may not know, if they realize him or her doing something that doesn't goe with the community's intend. But of course the number of such encouraged interventions decreases with increasing anonymity and over time (since usually no one is rewarded for the courage of his convictions).

    So When It Comes To People No One Really Knows…
    …you have a serious problem.

    Therefore you may want to:

    Easy and cheap, but in most cases not an option if you want to keep up a functioning community.This way Wikipedia would probably end up as a library of contemporary spam an issue that Google is currently experiencing with their Blogger service.

    A temptation for many politicians: Watch, check and verify anything and anybody before they get anywhere. Unfortunately this would not only be at the cost of any free society or community but simply unaffordable in most cases. Also experience from totalitarian countries tell us, that people will always find a way to get around the system. So if we want to keep Wikipedia running, this isn't an option either.

    Executing traditional law is a good example for this. You tell the people what it is about, occasionally remind them (like putting up traffic signs) and let the police do occasional checks (even though their actual 'hits' may be on the wrong ones) to prevent all kinds of people from ignoring the rules.Though this may be a proven procedure, 'occasional' correctness-checks may (though suitable on many purposs) just not be enough for a fact-library like Wikipedia.

    Building a high fence around your housing estate, putting up weaponed guards at the entrance, keeping you save inside and bad world outside, to many seems to be a considerable approach. Unfortunately these checkpoint will keep anything outside you don't alredy own: new impressions, cultural diversity, word of mouth, creative happenings for short: If you want to get new experiences or information, you will have to get outside.
    This is why Wikipedia's dual-version proposal to me seems more like stiring up the patient during the visiting hours, rather than curing the disease. It indeed may currently deliver a bunch of more trustworthy results, but at the same time, it will apply the brakes to wikipedia's most powerful advantages; as there are topicality, completeness and being a good and up-to-date - starting point, which will loose its attractiveness when getting 'frozen'.

    So what then ? Well, how about just making the world somewhat smaller ?
    Since all of the issues mentioned are not new to the world, but occur anywhen trusted information is dealt with, there have been innovative approaches e.g. from the trade world.
    Imagine yourself getting into some foreign shop to purchase something. If you pay the owner chash he will be likely to accept, since he can verify your payment imediately. But what happens if you don't have enough money with you ? You will not want to grant the shop owner general access to your bank account… Of course, you can always promise to pay for your shopping somewhen later, but how will the owner know if he can trust you ? He can't.

    Until you draw out your credit card.

    He will take your card, use a qualified electronic procedure to verify it and eventually accept you for credit. Even if he doesn't know (and mabe not even trusts) you at all. But he trusts your credit card company.

    The little electronic device, that checks your credit card for validity, makes the difference: It shortens your separation in trust from the shop owner to - for this particular purpose (buying at a shop) - acceptable two degrees.

    Let's apply this to Wikipedia, now.

    The 'being free' aspect of Wikipedia is very important to its success.
    But proven facts and freedom to say what you think do not always go together well, since a fact as itself rarely cares about the opinion you might or might not have on it.
    For the quality of Wikipedia articles it is essential, that someone e. g. from a less liberal country cannot be tracked down for writing in his knowledge there. On the other hand, as we have seen, being to anonymous can end up to be dangerous for the entire project.

    For the short term the actions that are already out for testing at Wikipedia currently may indeed suffice.

    For the long term I'd propose a pseudonymous registration for Wikipedia and quite a bunch of other occasions where respecting the user's privacy is crucial.
    Basically this works just like your credit card, only that it does not tell about solvency but about trustworthyness (actually a bit like the karma-points you get from the other users on certain web-forums). The issuer of these certificates will verify you in person and then guarantee on behalf of your trustworthyness towards others, just as the credit card company does for your payments, but without telleing the person opposite who you are in real life. It's your verifyable, digital ID if you like it that way.

    Who may perform as the ID issuer ?
    Probably not a state official or your bank or anyone else, who could have an interest in putting you under pressure.
    For business purposes this might be a good job for your employer or the chamber of commerce. On other occations founding a specialized non-profit institution may be the action of choice.
    This may also be encouraged by politcal action, as many countries of the European Union have already executed the directive of setting digital signatures equal in law to the traditional handwritten ones. This will make it quite easy to apply for a pseudonymous digital ID remotely even in other countries where it will be unlikely that someone gets non-permitted hands on your real identity.

    O.k. as a comment this has now been quite lengthy, but I was just hoping to hit more of the relevant details by taking the big round-up.

    Patty Seybold

    Thanks so much for calling this to my attention! I have been tracking Lego, of course, but missed this!

    So good to know that Mindstorms is back and it's a great story...


    Angus McDonald


    I wonder if you have seen the preview Wired article about LEGO Mindstorms NXT. It appears that LEGO went to their customer base to get some Mindstorm fans to help them design the next version of that product line, and even ended up incorporating hardware developed by those fans into their new product.

    The article is here:,69946-0.html?tw=wn_tophead_1

    This is mainly customer as collaborator, with a bit of customer as supplier thrown in. The guys involved did it for some free prototype LEGO bricks, and not much else!

    Patty Seybold

    Thanks for the link to Tony Long's post on Wikipedia about "Your Right to be an Idiot." I don't think he has an axe to grind. We're really saying the same thing. Free speech is important, but.. there needs to be some caveat and some mechanism for fact-checking.. I'm hopeful that Wikipedia may get there with the two-version idea.. one fact-checked/published/static and the other dynamic and in process...

    Ironic about the broken post/feedback form but hey, we all show our dirty laundry some times...


    Dana Richardson

    Hi Patty and brilliant readers: All these issues about the "Wiki" are so important, it really got me to wondering about this, and then I saw this article by Tony Long - of Wired -,1283,69903,00.html

    Which really raises an interesting question - here is Tony Long, online for Wired, discussing the validity of a "Wiki" - would you wonder if he's asserting superiority of editorial review at Wired versus "Wiki"? Don't know if you will find this amusing or not, but when I went to the comment input form at Wired to ask Tony about this very errored out- off this URL:

    giving forth this error message -

    "Fatal error: Call to a member function on a non-object in /usr/local/apache/htdocs/lenya-cache-dir/support/feedback.html on line 40"

    Hope you won't think me daft, but I found that sort of ...amusing?

    Patty Seybold

    Ahh.. so here's a really interesting point. Who is a customer? I define a customer as the person who USES or CONSUMES a product or service. (They may or may not pay for the privilege of doing so, as in a corporation, where the end-user may be using a resource provided by the corporation, or in the case of the client for a not-for-profit organization).

    As I research many of the examples of customer-led innovaton, I find that there are often multiple customers. The folks whom Eric von Hippel refers to as LEAD USERS.. these would be the people who contribute to creating and editing Wikipedia. And the END-USERS, e.g. the readers/researchers who use Wikipedia as a first port of call in finding out about something.

    Here's another, similar example. Who are the customers for a scientific journal? My colleagues in that field assure me that the authors -- the people who create the content for the journals -- are, in fact key customers. Getting published in a journal is very important to them. And journals compete with one another for the best authors. (Most authors do in fact pay for the privilege of being published.) The other key customers are the readers--many of whom are the colleagues for whom the scholarly article is of value, to learn from, build on, or rebut. The librarians who subscribe to the journal are the purchasers, but not the end-customers.

    Marketplaces are also interesting when it comes to ferreting out who the customers are. EBay, for example, caters to its largest sellers as its most important customers. In an auction or marketplace, buyers and sellers are, in fact, equal players in co-creating the market. The customers--or end-users of the market place--are both buyers and sellers.

    You are correct that many people wouldn't be contributing to Wikipedia if it were running ads or charging for its content. It has a business model. It's a not-for-profit.


    Ben Yates

    Good post. I do have one caveat, though: I'm not sure I'd consider wikipedia editors (or readers) customers -- the foundation is non-profit and the site is free. It's more of a community project than a business project, and it's questionable whether people would be as willing to contribute their time if the wikimedia foundation was (say) running ads.

    The comments to this entry are closed.

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