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Democratizing Innovation (MIT Press) Paperback – February 17, 2006

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Editorial Reviews


Eric von Hippel has a penchant for identifying important aspects of technological innovation that run contrary to conventional wisdom and to the thrust of conventional scholarship. His work on the important role that users, rather than suppliers, play in the advance of technology casts the process in a new light. This book is an intellectual feast.

(Richard R. Nelson, George Blumenthal Professor of International and Public Affairs, Business, and Law, Columbia University)

In a concise 200 pages, von Hippel traces the empirical studies on user innovation, determining that between 10 and 40 percent of users engage in developing or modifying products. These 'lead users' are ahead of the curve and often create improvements that other users will want to share.

(Harvard Business School Working Knowledge)

Still, new patterns are emerging in some scattered yet suggestive areas of product design, studied by management expert, Eric von Hippel in Democratizing Innovation. 'Lead users' (the most zealous windsurfers who get new boards first and modify them, the most advanced builders experimenting with new materials like stressed-skin panels) often suggest or even create useful innovations that manufacturers adopt.

(San Francisco Chronicle)

The book puts its thesis well, with plenty of examples.

(Financial Review (Australia))

The fruits of his labor are nicely summarized in Democratizing Innovation, a useful primer on what he calls 'user-centered innovation.'...Despite its brevity, Democratizing Innovation is a heavyweight book, written with the lightness of touch you might expect from a regular contributor to the journal Management Science. But where innovation comes from and how value gets created are heavy questions for all companies in all industries. No innovation means no value added, and ultimately no profits.

(The Financial Times)

This is a book that should be required reading for every person in every automotive company who is involved in product development, be they marketers or engineers, manufacturers or managers. It is that important.

(Automotive Design and Production)

von Hippel has brought an important issue to the fore.

(CIO Insight)

Von Hippel presents a persuasive case for the benefits of encouraging lead users to innovate and a truly intriguing look at what they've contributed to the world so far.


[von Hippel's] book looks at why users want customized products, why it is more advantageous for them rather than the manufacturer to make the changes, why they freely share their innovations with other, and the need for government to encourage user innovaton by refining patent and intellectual protection legislation. It's a fascinating, little explored trend that he covers thoroughly. Although his book is written in academic style, it offers lots of examples and provides an understanding of an important innovation in the world of innovation.

(Globe and Mail)

[von Hippel] shows that, in fields ranging from surgical instruments and software to kite surfing, customers often come up with new products of new ways of using old ones. Some companies encourage their customers to modify their merchandise. Others, however, do not: when a devoted user of Aibo, Sony's robot dog, wrote applicatons that would allow the Aibo to dance to music, Sony threatened the man with a lawsuit.

(James Surowiecki New Yorker)

The guru of customer-centered innovation blazes new ground in this masterpiece. He shows managers how to get the most out of a world where customers and communities pioneer new ideas and reconfigure what they buy. Other books tell you that co-creating innovations with customers is important -- Von Hippel tells you how to make it happen.

(Philip Anderson, INSEAD Alumni Fund Professor of Entrepreneurship, and Director, International Centre for Entrepreneurship)

Von Hippel provides us with a Rosetta Stone to innovation in the Internet age! He marshals a wide range of research findings to document and explain the major shift to user-centered innovation that is now well underway. He also shows managers and policymakers the most effective ways to adapt.

(Nikolaus Franke, Vienna University of Economics and Business Administration)

Democratizing Innovation presents pathbreaking research to explain a major paradigm shift in innovation: users are displacing manufacturers to become the dominant force of innovation in many fields. I strongly recommend this brilliant, well-written book to researchers and managers who are passionate about the nature of successful innovation -- and how to achieve it!

(Georg von Krogh, Director, Institute of Management, University of St. Gallen, Switzerland)

About the Author

Eric von Hippel is Professor of Management of Innovation and Head of the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Group at the MIT Sloan School of Management. He is the author of The Sources of Innovation.


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Product Details

  • Series: MIT Press
  • Paperback: 216 pages
  • Publisher: The MIT Press; Administra‹o edition (February 17, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0262720477
  • ISBN-13: 978-0262720472
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.5 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #217,853 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Frank Piller on April 9, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This is a wonderful book beyond the typical managerial how-to-do checklists. This is the reason why I recommend this book especially to managers and practitioners (innovation management researchers will read the book anyway as Eric von Hippel is one of the leading scholars in this field). Managers may find the book, on a first glance, academic, full with tables, numbers and references. But von Hippel is driven throughout his book by the motivation to present not only a fascinating new idea, but to show that this idea is already a reality and that there is empirical evidence that his concepts provide value for companies and customers. This is the main difference to other books in the area which present various fuzzy weak signals but no proof.

Von Hippel's book goes also beyond the open innovation idea of Chesbrough and others as mentioned by the first reviewer. Chesbrough names a lot of important actors in the innovation process, but neglects the - in my opinion - most important one: the customer or user of the innovation. Von Hippel starts exactly here. His approach is focused on the role of users and customers for the innovation process. In this regard, he builds on his earlier word of the 1970s and 1980s, but has a new story to tell: that user innovation is not only changing the corporate innovation process but also the nature of value creation: If manufacturing is outsourced to Asia, and users take over innovation (and perform this process superior to internal innovation processes), what is left for the corporation?
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Format: Hardcover
The book comprises an outstanding publication in the field of innovation management. It has the potential of becoming the central textbook in the field of user-centered innovation which is an increasingly important research area.

The objective of this book is to provide a state-of-the-art overview of research in the field of user innovation. Also, it aims to show how the different (so far more or less isolated) aspects are related. These are ambitious goals.

From my perspective, the manuscript fully meets them. It offers a profound, concise and easy to read overview of the research done in the past decade. Its outstanding quality is that it manages to relate different aspects in an innovative way and shows the rationale of the research field. It delivers new insights even to a researcher active in this field for some years now.

The book it interesting for a broad audience. It is stimulating even for a specialist in this field. But of course, the main audience is much broader. It should be of interest for scholars and students in the fields of innovation management, new product development, market research, economics and other. It will be of interest also for practitioners and policy makers in the corresponding areas.

I really like the many easy-to-understand examples and its conciseness. One does not necessarily have to have an understanding of the research field before in order to learn from the book (and enjoy it!).
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Format: Hardcover
I have been for most of my working career a "practitioner," that is someone in business struggling to out-innovate current or future competition. Von Hipple's earlier book, "The Sources of Innovation," back in 1988, was a pathfinding work and got many of us to look more closely at "lead custoners and users" for new ideas and innovations. They were a great source!

In recent years, a new concept, "open market innovation," has helped many of us go beyond our corporate walls to the outside world for new ideas and innovations in designated fields, primarily using the Internet to help cast our net widely.

Proctor & Gamble, for example, help to pioneer this concept, starting in 2000. In 2003, Henry Chesbrough's book, "Open Innovation: The New Imperative for Creating and Profiting from Technology," went into some detail telling us how to use the concept to improve the flow of worthwhile ideas. His book was followed by C. K. Prahalad, Venkat Ramaswamy's work,

"The Future of Competition: Co-Creating Unique Value with Customers.

Yet, for some reason von Hipple makes no mention of the Open Market Innovation concept to help cast a net to early adopters and way, way beyond. I wonder why? Certainly, he's not that far out of touch.

But more fundamentally, von Hipple's book is too academic - perhaps written more for an academic audience than practitioners who should be interested in applying his ideas in practice. Perhaps his editor was asleep, or couldn't quite figure out what he was trying to say.

In spite of this drawback, I recomment his book. Perhaps senior executives will give a copy to a junior worker and ask him/her to translate it and recommend what their company should do.

Sam Felton
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Format: Hardcover
This book is a great read, especially for someone who has not been taught about user innovation and who questions the open source business model. Von Hippel is a pioneer when it comes to user innovation. If you thought that companies come up with winning ideas, or that the only way to make any money on a great idea is to patent it then this book will open your eyes to a much greater world. The concepts of free revealing (vs. IP) and of lead user (vs. manufacturer) innovation are great. It goes deeping into the idea that information is sticky and cannot be communicated from users to engineers very easily, even in consumer focus groups. Also discussed is the opportunity to create a toolkit to allow users to do the development work for you. This book is truly outstanding.
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