Customer driven Innovation – Learning from Lego

In January, Lego put out word that it’s looking for 100 more citizen developers. These volunteers won’t enjoy the exalted insider status of the MUPers, whose ranks have recently grown to 14. But over the next few months, they will be allowed to buy prerelease versions of the NXT kits at discounted prices and asked to test them rigorously.

Inviting customers to innovate isn’t just about building better products. Opening the process engenders goodwill and creates a buzz among the zealots, a critical asset for products like Mindstorms that rely on word-of-mouth evangelism. In his book Democratizing Innovation, MIT professor Eric von Hippel says that "the joy and the learning associated with membership in creative communities" drives people to generously share their time. After his close encounter with four of the most passionate Mindstorms users, Lund wants every NXT customer to be able to have an effect on how Mindstorms is used and designed. His plans include a Lego-hosted Web site where brickheads can upload scripts for robot behaviors or peruse blogs detailing the building of a Mindstorms typewriter or pinball machine. "Imagine Flickr for robotics," says Lund, who admires the photography site for how it has made image-sharing accessible and, in turn, spurred demand for digital cameras.

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