Harvard Business School’s Working Knowledge site has a great article on innovation, using rodeo kayaks as the case study. Rarely do I get to mix business with pleasure so much as reading this article. It turns out that an interesting user-generated innovation model happens in industries where there is a) room to explore and b) the cost of design changes are available to an individual. Sounds like small boating as a whole – how many designs emerged from the shop of one bright soul who was out to solve a tough problem (e.g., how to get the fish home better, carry more stuff, get myself upwind, etc.). It is not too businessy and definitely worth a read – we need to think about ways to keep harnessing the model but bring about a return to traditional-looking designs and, generally, “natural” materials. Basically, everyone with a sweet boat needs to go out and do something awesome – tomorrow!
Q: Do user innovations flourish more in some industries than others, or with certain types of products more than others?
A: Definitely. For user innovation to be a force, the cost of creating a new design must be within the reach of a single user, whose reward is solely the improvement of his or her own experience. The cost I’m referring to can take many forms: It can be time and effort, knowledge, or money. But the cost has to be reasonably low, and the perceived psychic reward to the user has to be high enough to justify the cost.
Perceived rewards are high when people are passionate about something. I think this is why we see a lot of user innovation in design spaces related to new sports, like rodeo kayaking and kite surfing. The participants care passionately about their sport, and (because it is new), its design spaces are still largely unexplored.