Lead User Research for Breakthrough Innovation

6710 Words Apr 18th, 2011 27 Pages
Lead-user research can help companies uncover both unmet customer needs and the innovative solutions that leading-edge users are developing to meet those needs.

Ivy Eisenberg
OVERVIEW: The best companies often work closely with their customers to uncover needs and wants that can be translated into new or improved product or service offerings. The lead-user research method goes a step further, looking not only to the typical customer, but to those users whose needs and preferences lead the market. These lead users, as they are called, will modify products or use them in unforeseen ways to meet their needs. The lead-user research method was developed as a systematic way to mine the insights
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Research . Technology Management
0895-6308/11/$5.00 © 2011 Industrial Research Institute, Inc.

Yet it remains a powerful tool for fresh, new thinking. The method can be used to achieve different types of business outcomes beyond developing new products and services; new business models, new product platforms, new technologies, and new markets have all been generated through lead-user research projects. I have worked directly on four lead-user projects, as project leader and lead-user consultant, each of which had a different goal: A joint project between Bell Atlantic (now Verizon) and 3M was intended to develop concepts for products and services for the telecommunications field technician of the future (see “My Lead User Story”). A Pitney Bowes project involved developing a new business model for the company’s entry into the package shipping space. The Gillette team used the lead-user research method to spur technology innovation. The fourth company (confidential) was looking to leverage their core technology expertise to create new growth platforms for both nearterm and longer-term opportunities. The practice of leaduser research has evolved to accommodate the emergence of the Internet as a tool for identifying and communicating

A lead user is motivated to innovate in order to solve his or her own problems rather than to sell a product or service. with lead users, among other developments, and to incorporate lessons learned over the
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