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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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    March 24, 2006


    Patty Seybold

    Hi Frank,
    Thanks for this useful background! You're right, that "the pitch" is an important crystallizer and catalyst. In our customer co-design workshops--the ones that, like yours, were multi-day affairs, we also built in several different opportunities for teams to prepare a pitch and give it. Each time, the presentations and the reactions thereto crystallized the thinking and "popped" it to the next level...

    I appreciate the background information...

    Patty Seybold

    Frank Boyd

    As the person who designed and directed the Lab process for the BBC, I thought you might be interested in a little background to their origin.

    The Lab format has been evolving for over ten years now, starting from a series of residential workshops called the ‘European Multimedia Labs’ on a farm in the south-east of England. These events, which involved teams from small creative companies, artists, writers, musicians and coders were lightly structured. We brought in expert 'mentors' and facilitators to work with the projects, encouraged peer-to-peer support and helped people develop a pitch which they presented to visitors from broadcasters, publishers and potential investors on the final day of the Lab. In these early days there was very little explicit focus on the user.

    I was subsequently invited to adapt the Lab model for the BBC who wanted to develop ideas for interactive television. The first of these, in 1999, included people and proposals that became the first live services on digital satellite: Wimbledon Interactive and Walking with Beasts. It was at this stage, working with the BBC's internal audience research teams that we began to introduce user focused techniques.

    The labs were focused around pitching as a design tool (based on E.M.Forster's dictum: 'How do I know what I think until I see what I say'. We now began to ask teams to present a pitch entirely from the point of view of their target user or audience. For a lot of TV producers, this was a pretty radical idea.

    I worked on Labs for five years at the BBC and became part of a team looking at how to improve the organisations approach to innovation and creative development. As part of that research we visited a number of places in the UK and the US which seemed to do development well. Two of these, SRI and Ideo, had a significant impact on the design of the Lab process.

    The Stanford Research Institute confirmed that pitching was an key tool in the innovation process and taught a very valuable structure based around Needs, Approach, Benefits and Competition. Ideo gave us a lot of ideas about how to put users at the heart of a creative process.

    I left the BBC over two years ago but when they announced that they were looking for ways of working with external small companies to come up with innovative new media applications and services, I went and pitched the idea of Labs to Ashley Highfield. That meeting lead to discussions with Matt Locke (a visitor at the original labs on the farm) who then commissioned the pilot series which finished yesterday.

    We now have a very tight structure which produces results. These Labs have proved a very effective way of enabling the BBC and potential suppliers to understand each other, to explore approaches to innovation and to build early stage prototypes of new services.

    It's a model which could be applied in many other contexts.

    The comments to this entry are closed.

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