The full value of lead-user innovation

Last week I had the pleasure to be at the Front End Innovation Europe conference, to give a key note on moving towards an eco-system of value creation with consumers. While much attention is around the products emerging from the process, by far the bigger and more enduring impact is the one on the very fabric of the company and its culture.

Some of the products emerging from the process are of course the Mindstorms NXT is an enduring example of what a great product can emerge from a lead-user process. The LEGO hobby train was a complete lead-user effort with minimal involvement from LEGO and launched the train category as a user-collaboration platform. As we developed the infrastructure for mass customisation with LEGO Factory and Digital designer – we could also use that platform to involve our users in the task of building LEGO Universe, a multi-player online game, later mothballed due to an inflexible business model. LEGO Architecture is but one example of opening up our business platform for collaboration with the fan community and moving towards an eco-system of value creation. In other areas lead-users and community in general are part of the product development process, thus increasingly blurring the boundaries of what is purely an in-house effort and what is a collaborative effort.

This openness in general has created a better innovation process, which takes a starting point in user needs and involves users in solving that need, so products are more relevant and more appealing to users all over, which translates to better business. For us some of the greatest learnings have been the value that the community brings, not just in all the creativity and content the community produces, but what an enabler of cultural change the community can be. Many LEGO colleagues have been to fan events, met fans and worked with them and have been transformed by the experience, realising the wider context of the activities each of us are involved in and being humbled by the skill and talent out there – determined to respect and cherish the individuals fuelling this huge creative power.

So it’s easy to only focus in narrowly on the value lead-users and community can bring in better aligning a company to the needs and wants of its user-base – but the much greater value such an effort can produce is the culture change – creating accountability, a sense of purpose and meaning behind sometimes boring day-to-day tasks and last but not least, a sense of urgency, a momentum behind making this change now and not waiting.

This is what helps prepare companies for the future, making it possible to understand what distributive, collaborative value creation actually means. Too many people speak of this as the way forward, without grasping what is required here and now to make that transition happen. Corporate cultures can be very resistant to change, if there is no perceived real reason to change and no tangible concept of what value that change could bring. Ultimately this has to be translated into an emotional experience for people at all levels of the company. Without that – it will just remain words on a page.

Jim Collins in his book Built to Last talks about what is the unique elements that mean some companies last and continue thriving and others wither away – and he claims it is the sense of purpose, the mission that drives companies from being merely good to becoming great. Profit allows us to be here – but it is not the reason we are here. Before you can put a human face to the reason you are here, it is hard to really feel it. For us, all the kids, parents, teachers and adult fans of LEGO out there who become empowered in their creativity by building with LEGO bricks, and surprise both themselves and others just how amazing their ideas and creativity can be when working hard to express it – this is our burning platform, the reason we are all united around and the effect of making this tangible among all of us working at LEGO has created a huge shift in both our thinking, the way we work and how we innovate.

For those interested in understanding more about the Lead User Method – developed by Eric von Hippel at the MIT – please visit his site, where you can also download a copy of his excellent book on the subject!

#Business #development #Innovation #leaduser