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While each of the new products developed by 3M may be called an ‘innovation,’ the very outlook and approach which has evolved and been institutionalized in 3M are themselves an…
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Download file to see previous pages ar, the team had been able to propose three major new products; they also proposed a new strategy for addressing and treating infection through a revolutionary approach. The key factors that account for the success of this innovative approach to innovation deserve closer scrutiny.
A key factor in 3M’s innovative approach is the extraordinary emphasis it gives to information which is collected from its products’ users. The conventional method involves research teams analyzing sales data, field reports, and complaints or requests from customers; thereafter, in-house developers brainstorm for the solution. At 3M, the lead user process involves the gathering of information through an approach that differs essentially from the traditional, because it seeks data not only on the needs but also on the solutions to these needs. It does not acquire its data from the center of the target market, but elicits responses mainly ‘from the leading edges of [the] company’s target market and from markets that face similar problems in a more extreme form’ (Hippel, Thomke, and Sonnack, 1999, p. 47). Lead users refer to the experts on the ‘leading edge of the target market’ (p.49) – that is, those who take a serious interest in the use of the particular product, are more experienced, and would tend to make it their business to examine and form a thorough and grounded perspective on the product, its technology, and the objective which that product is intended to achieve.
The success of a lead user approach presents a crucial challenge – how to effectively identify the lead users from the mass of users. So much of this approach hinges on the viewpoints and suggestions of a concentrated few of the broad spectrum of users, not only on their needs but also on likely solutions. Therefore, if the research team recommends solutions which are pursued by the design team that have emanated from the wrong set of users (i.e., non-lead users), then the recommendations may ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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