Across a wide range of fields once passive consumers are becoming adaptors, inventors and innovators. They are not just consuming products and services, they are contributing to the way those products are developed and produced. In software, the biggest challenge to the propriety systems of big companies such as Sun Microsystems and Microsoft is coming from open source programmes developed by groups of volunteers. In a range of leisure fields the biggest innovations have come from groups of dedicated, knowledgeable users. In many public services, users are helping to develop and provide the services they rely upon. Journalists now find themselves surrounded by citizen-reporters who publish their material on blogs.
Yet knowledgeable, committed consumers who want to contribute to product and service development are being badly served by mainstream companies. It is not in business interests to ignore this source of knowledge, experience and ideas.
Innovation is a fraught and risky business. Producer-driven innovation has a success rate of about 25 percent. One uncertainty is over whether the technology in a new product will work properly. But by far the most significant risk is about markets and consumers: will they like a new product and want to accommodate it into their lives?
More consumer participation in innovation should be attractive to companies. By Involving consumers much more directly organisations should be able to reduce the risks of failure and make research and development (R & D) that much more effective.
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