March 15, 2013

Open innovation as a subset of user innovation?

I was asked to mention on this blog a CFP by JET-M for a special issue on user innovation:
Journal of Engineering and Technology Management
Leveraging User Innovation: Managing the Creative Potential of Individual Consumers
Submission 1st February 2014

Guest Editors
Marcel Bogers, University of Southern Denmark
Ian P. McCarthy, Simon Fraser University, Canada
Leyland Pitt, Simon Fraser University, Canada

Users have long been identified as important sources of innovation (von Hippel, 1976; Lettl, 2007; Gales and Mansour-Cole, 1995). Research has focused on both intermediate users (e.g., user firms or B2B) and final consumer users (e.g., end users/communities or B2C) as sources of innovative products and services (Bogers et al., 2010). This special issue focuses on the different types of individuals or groups of individuals who undertake user innovation to produce new products and services (Berthon et al., 2007).

Recent research has highlighted the innovation potential of individual consumers who, in the UK, spend more time and money on innovation than all UK consumer product firms combined (von Hippel et al., 2012). Also, with the growing interest in open innovation (Chesbrough, 2003; Chesbrough et al., 2006), an increasing number of mechanisms, such as crowdsourcing (Poetz and Schreier, 2012) and social media (Kietzmann et al., 2011), exist to harness this potential. Such trends have major implications for innovation management education (Horwitch and Stohr, 2012) and thus offer numerous opportunities for interesting scholarly inquiry (see: West and Bogers, forthcoming).
Due to problems with the CFP, I was torn about whether or not to publicize it.

After doing a book chapter comparing UI to OI, this lists of topics seems much more about open innovation than about user innovation. Yes, von Hippel noted almost 40 years ago (in his first Research Policy article) about the importance of users as a source of ideas. And yes, crowdsourcing has attracted interest from both UI and OI scholars. But nowadays, UI (e.g. von Hippel, 2005; Baldwin & von Hippel, 2010) has been about empowering users to elaborate and disseminate their ideas — to address their own particularistic needs — not help “producers” continue a paradigm that deserves to be relegated to the ash heap of history.

Instead — Poetz & Schreier (2012) notwithstanding — the literature on harnessing the ideas of individuals to help firms has moved decisively into the OI camp. In part, it’s because of the inherently firm-centric nature of OI. But it’s also because many of the contributions (think Innocentive, or even Threadless) are from individuals who have insights beyond their own personal use benefits — which means they’re not user-innovators (in the traditional von Hippel sense) but they are individual-level external innovators (in the Chesbrough sense). I have sometimes seen UI explained as a subset of OI (not strictly true), but never have I seen OI claimed to be a subset of UI.

So given the topics, the editors want papers on open innovation, but say their special issue about user innovation.

Why the erroneous classification? Of the special issue editors, one is a well-cited UI scholar who recently has dabbled in OI. The other two editors don’t seem to have published on either topic.

Since I’ve publicized flawed CFPs before, I decided there was a precedent for both mentioning and correcting a CFP. (Of course, I realize this blog has readers who are more loyal to the UI “camp” than the OI “camp”.)

Still, the way to fix this would be for authors to submit papers that combine what UI tells us about generating ideas from “sticky information” with the OI “new paradigm” of how corporations utilize external information. Best case, maybe the guest editors would learn a thing or two about open innovation and not make the same mistake again.


Marcel Bogers said...

Given the degree (and I may add tone) of criticism in this post, I feel the need to respond as one of the guest editors. :-) Joel and I have been interacting about this directly but I believe it is useful to highlight the source of misunderstanding. In short, our central interest for this special issue is not in exploring what has been called "open collaborative innovation" per se (even though this would by itself be interesting and important research) but rather how firms harness the innovative potential of individual consumers (which is indeed more in line with the notion of open innovation).

Maybe it was a mistake to use "user innovation" as we did not intend to equate this notion with what Baldwin and von Hippel (2011) label "open collaborative innovation", which is describing a separate (and in my view complementary) paradigm about the social division of labor. However, we did not intend to brake up that paradigm/concept, although it may still have implications for profit-seeking firms. I may add that the mentioned Bogers et al. (2010) review article dedicates a section on "Producers Take Advantage of Users as Innovators", which may indeed highlight the earlier work on "user innovation".

Anyway, I think a fairer assessment or criticism would be to say that we are highlighting the intersection between open innovation and user innovation as a continued promising area of research, although it may generally be better to stay away from the notion of two "camps" in this case. Nevertheless. in the spirit of user innovation, if we are indeed making wrong assumptions and claims here, I hope that the contributors to the issue can correct our mistakes. :-)

Marcel Bogers

Joel West said...

If this was the intention of the editors, I’m sorry they weren’t more clear in conveying that intention in their call.

The title of the call and the first paragraph clearly imply that the issue was intended to be about “user innovation” as most people would define it, i.e. von Hippel (1976, 1988, 1994, 2001, 2005).

Two small changes to the CFP would make this clear. First, change the title to mention both OI and UI (e.g. "open user innovation"; "user and open innovation") or a neutral term (“distributed innovation”, “collaborative innovation”).

Second, mention firms in the first paragraph, e.g. “This special issue focuses on how firms can benefit from the different types of individuals…”

Marcel Bogers said...

In the spirit of "openness", we have decided to make some minor adjustments to the call for papers, triggered by this post as well as some more feedback and discussions.

We are now using the term "users as innovators" to refer to the more general phenomenon of users as possible sources of innovation. We also more specifically highlight our focus on firms, which was admittedly not very explicit in the original call.

We are hoping that these adjustments provide some additional clarity, while we are anyway looking forward to many high-quality papers.