Windsurfing, R/C Planes, Wii and How User-Driven Innovation is Changing the World

Posted on 12. Mar, 2010 by

The concept of “open” in the new economy is about much more than just open-source software development. It crosses virtually all industries and is really about:

· ‘Leading users’ creating remarkable product or service innovation

· Collaboration with other leading users to perfect the innovation

· Disseminate innovation across the broader user community

· Building community participation in ongoing product advancement

In his free ebook, Democratizing Innovation, Eric von Hippel opens with an example of user-driven innovation from the 1970s – the development of foot straps for windsurfing boards. I found this a fascinating example of how the most advanced users of any given product may begin tinkering with or modifying the original product to get more out of it. What I wanted to know was, how is ‘leading user’ capacity and desire to innovate playing out in the new economy?

Following are two examples that I just discovered, courtesy of Chris Brogan and TED. The first is the application of Lego Mindstorms to create a control system and autopilot capability for a do-it-yourself areal drone or UAV. Not long ago, UAV’s where the very expensive and exclusive domain of the military. But because one GeekDad (Chris Anderson) decided to push the boundaries on both Mindstorms and r/c model airplanes, we now have a commercially viable auto-pilot system for $24.95.

In the second example, Johnny Lee, a TED Conference Speaker, creates a sophisticated interactive whiteboard, and a 3-D tracking technology based on the Nintendo Wii remote. He has taken a $3,000 product (an interactive whiteboard) and recreated nearly all of it’s benefits, for about $50. The extraordinary thing here is how quickly his innovation was disseminated across the net (more than a million YouTube views in the first week) and how many other users have engaged in the conversation to educate other potential users, further adapt the original innovation, or come up with other tangential innovations.

“Open”, my friends, is part of the new paradigm. It’s impact on our lives will only grow as, culturally, we seek more meaningful ways to engage with a connected world.