Collaborative Innovation with Customers


About a year ago I watched a TED talk on collaborative innovation by Charles Leadbeater. I just watched it again. It’s good to be reminded of the roots of great ideas that turn into markets for millions of consumers. Does it pay to collaborate with your customers?

Users define the experience they want. The experience emerges from what appears to be a disorganized band of consumers who work with each other, and with collaborative suppliers to cobble together the experience they want from a product. It starts with dissatisfaction with what is currently on the market, and the desire to scratch that itch. The biggest payoffs in innovation come from ideas with the biggest uncertainty. In large companies, the incentives for these high risk-high return ventures are limited. Companies that want to profit from innovation need to understand that collaboration with Customers is the key to generating the next killer product. This goes to the heart of Customer Collaboration over Contract Negotiation from the Agile Manifesto. The first iterations of these new product ideas become full-fledged commercial products over time. Leadbeater cites a few examples in his talk including SMS and mountain bikes.

If you work in a large corporation, start asking yourself how you can engage dissatisfied end-users and start a dialogue that leads to collaborative co-design. Traditional large organizations are not set up to work this way. Leadbeater explains why. If your R&D is far-removed from your customers, you’ll struggle to have this experience.

One of the reasons I champion Agile methods in my company is the highly collaborative and interactive experience I have had over the past five years in the Korean market. My Korean customers demand face time, interaction, collaboration, and co-development. What we learned in Korea has helped us build better, more robust wireless telephony networks for our other customers around the world.

Watch the talk, and then ask yourself, where’s my itchy Customer?

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