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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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    September 08, 2009



    You are welcome for the question. I think it is a fundamental one.

    No one can fake it with a farm. It is a simple proposition of daylight, hard work, soil, seeds, water, some luck from the weather, and time.

    A farm is the purest expression of what Ayn Rand had in mind. And what Adam Smith was talking about. (And, amazingly, what all those Chicago-based classical economists who organized and, in the 1980's, despite all of Willy Nelson's brave protestation, killed American farming.)

    I have heard a rumor that Goggle Earth is getting ready to introduce a new version that enables the user to peel up an acre of the patchwork in Uganda, and swap it for an acre of the patchwork in eighteenth century United States. (Those guys from M.I.T. are simply amazing.)

    When it is all said and done, one patch will produce the highest yield. And when everybody copies the techniques of that one, the people prosper. (John Seybold knew that.) When the printers and farmers prosper, only then do huts become homes. Villages become neighborhoods. Children sing songs and then go to sleep comfortable. And the world is a much better place for it.

    Patty Seybold

    URDT does track the yields and documents the inputs and outputs of various crops in different parts of its DEMONSRATION farm. The farm is run by a couple of skilled agronimists.

    I do not think they are posting their results online anywhere, but that is a good suggestion that I will pass on to the farm manager.

    There are also farmers' cooperatives that have been organized by URDT. There the farmers themselves compare notes on practices and yields.

    For the small-scale farms that are part of many of the Girls' "Back Home" projects, information is collected once a year about the crops grown and the income generated for the family. It's fairly anecdotal ("we were able to buy a motorbike and pay school fees for the other kids in the family") is usually how families report these results.

    Professor Amy Smith from MIT's D-Lab will be visiting URDT in October. Her students focus on the design of appropriate technologies for developing countries. Agriculture is one of the many areas they pay attention to. I believe that one of her graduate students will be doing more research on the Girls' School Back Home projects as a repeatable innovation. Perhaps he will be able to find a better way to document these results. Thanks for your question.


    Some time ago, a gentle man offered some rather unsolicited suggestions whereby maximal agricultural farm yields might be determined for the URDT community farm. I believe he suggested setting up some "mini-farms" and following a strict adherence to a set of carefully structured farming practices, which could then be measured. This technique would enable the URDT community to identify those techniques, seed sources and fertilizer application schedules that would result in the highest yield.

    I believe he suggested that once those a goodwill adherence to such strict guidelines were in place, this experiment were underway, expert guidance would be eagerly forthcoming from M.I.T., Harvard, and Michigan State University.

    I am curious, were any of his ideas implemented? Were they even discussed? It seemed like a very sound set of recommendations, although I question his agricultural credentials at making them. I wonder why he was ignored so casually.

    Incidentally, how did the farm overseen by URDT students do? How does it compare to other Ugandan farms? What were the yields? Are the numbers posted anywhere? Are there photos?

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