Los usuarios son una fuente de creación de productos innovadores y atractivos lo suficientemente importante como para tenerla en cuenta en las estrategias de innovación de las organizaciones y las administraciones. Este es el resultado del estudio que hemos realizado los profesores Iñaki García Arrizabalaga, Juan José Gibaja Martíns y yo misma. Según esta investigación, cerca del 5% de los consumidores habría creado o modificado productos para su uso particular. Esta investigación acaba de publicarse en la revista Cuadernos de Economía. De momento puede consultarse en el apartado «avance Online» y próximamente el artículo podrá leerse en el número 38 de la revista. En las líneas que siguen se recogen las principales conclusiones del estudio.
User-developed innovation completes manufacturer innovation. According to Flowers et al. (2010), 8% of United Kingdom consumers develop user innovation. A similar study maintains that 3.7% of consumers in Japan and 5.2% of consumers in the United States have been involved in user innovation (Ogawa and Pongtanalert, 2011). The results of our study, which is partially a replication of these studies, are similar. 5% of our non-representative sample in Gipuzkoa innovates. This figure cannot be dismissed as insignificant. Thus, it seems reasonable to take users (in this case consumers) into consideration when studying innovation. Users are in fact a non-negligible source of innovative and attractive products.
But who are the users involved in innovating? What are they like? What is their profile? How can they be identified? The literature refers to “user-innovators”, “lead users”, and “consumers with a leading edge status”. The differences between these concepts are slight. While user-innovators benefit from using a product they develop, lead users are at the leading edge of important market trends and they identify new emerging needs that have not been previously detected by most of the market. We decided to use the term “lead users”.
We are aware of the different methods for identifying these consumers, but we opted instead to develop a measurement scale because of its simplicity and practicality. Furthermore, we observed a gap in the development of cross-market scales for the identification of “lead users”.
In order to fill this information gap, we developed a cross-market scale which identifies consumers who innovate and who are at the leading edge of the market. This new measurement scale is called “Consumers at the Cutting-Edge”. It contains 31 items classified under three dimensions: user leadership, curiosity/creativity, and availability of time and skills for product development. The scale meets psychometric requirements of reliability and validity.
Given the quality of the measurement scale, we carried out an exploratory exercise to characterize consumers at the cutting-edge of market trends. These individuals are educated men with technical training. Men present higher scores in factors such as “User leadership” and “Availability of time and skills”. In the “Curiosity/Creativity” factor, there are no relevant differences between men and women. These findings suggest that possessing technical qualifications is a good indicator for identifying consumers at the cutting-edge. Individuals with technical qualifications have higher scores in each factor. And finally, the level of education of the respondents proved to be quite revealing. Consumers with more advanced studies scored higher in “Curiosity/Creativity”. So, men who are technically trained and well educated are potentially more likely to be at the leading edge of the market than other candidates. These results are quite consistent with other similar international studies previously referred to in this article.
These results suggest that the proposed measurement scale could be used by companies seeking to develop user-centered innovation by identifying “lead users”. But the study also drew another important conclusion, namely, that if we want to encourage user-centered innovation, we must promote user-leadership, creativity and curiosity. We must also empower citizens technically and guide them in their spare time to develop their capacity for innovation.
We would ask the academic and research community to consider this measurement scale when embarking on further research. It would be interesting to apply it to communities and regions with varied levels of development, especially in emerging markets. We also encourage the academic community to conduct psychometric contrasts applying confirmatory analysis on a representative sample.
It is important to mention the limitations of this research project. Although the sample size is large enough for the region under study, the method used for selection is not a probabilistic one. Due to considerable economic constraints, it was not possible to select a representative sample.
To conclude, the findings in this study suggest that innovation policies and management innovation based on a model of innovation which only focuses on the manufacturer will always be incomplete. And even though users are not being invited to participate in innovation processes, they carry on innovating by themselves anyway. If we want to exploit all the innovative potential in society we need to involve users in the innovation system and facilitate co-working with manufacturers. For this to happen, we need to be able to identify the most innovative consumers. We wish to make our measuring instrument, “Consumers at the cutting-edge” available to this community to assist them in this task. By involving these “lead users” in innovation processes we are affording them a different status from ordinary consumers. We are turning consumers into agents of innovation within the system.