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Working Paper 22
Our study focuses on the question, whether users should be intensively involved in the innovation process of radical product innovations or better not - from the manufacturer's perspective. Radical innovations incorporate new technologies, shift market structures, require intensive user learning and induce significant behavior changes. Due to these specifics the question arises, whether users play a productive role in the innovation process of radical innovations at all, or if their contributions might even be counterproductive. To gain a better understanding for the users' role in radical innovation and to develop a differentiated view of their contributions, we have studied three dimensions of user involvement were studied: (1) Which characteristics enable users to contribute to the innovation process? (2) How do manufacturers need to interact with users to benefit from their contributions? (3) How does user involvement impact on the manufacturer? We focused our study on the early phases of the innovation process. Two phases were distinquished for the analysis of these questions: Idea gen-eration and development. This distinction allows us to analyse the role of users within separate phases of the innovation process. Based on relevant theories and empirical work a set of propositions was formulated for each dimension. To study the addressed research questions, an explorative case study analysis was conducted in the field of medical technology. Five radical innovation projects were selected including medical robots, navigation systems, and biocompatible implants. In-depth inter-views were conducted with marketing, R&D, project leaders, CEO's, and users. A content analysis framework was applied to systematically analyse the collected data. The case studies reveal that users with a unique set of characteristics (motivation, competencies, contextual factors) were able to deliver major contributions in all three phases of the radical innova-tion projects. In four cases users turned out to be the original inventor of the radical innovations. Particularly users that work under extreme conditions (e.g. neurosurgeons) prooved to be a valuable source for radically new ideas. Furthermore the cases show that the innovative users took over classi-cal functions of manufacturers in the development process. For example the innovative users identified relevant experts and manufacturers that were required to transform their ideas into prototypes and products. These users therefore took over the networking function. some users were able to actively contribute to the development of first prototypes. A unique set of characteristics enabled users to do so. With regard to appropriate patterns of interaction between users and manufacturers the analysis reveals that face-to-face-interactions are required. This is due to the nature of information that is transferred. The information provided by users and by manufacturers is highly complex. Therefore explanations and visualisations are needed to gain an understanding on either side. In addition the analysis shows that it seems to be appropriate to interact with a small, well selected number of users in early phases and to increase the number of involved users as the project gets closer to market introduc-tion. In four cases specific users contributed significantly to NPD success. Based on the results of the study, the recommendation for manufacturers is to leverage the knowledge of users with certain char-acteristics for radical innovation projects. The results of our study form the basis of a market research concept for radical innovations.
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