Innovation is the lifeblood of every successful business. Across the world, throughout the land, boffins are hard at work in the R&D departments of companies: scratching their heads, engaging in blue-sky thinking, testing prototypes and searching for the next killer app, must-have gizmo or paradigm-shifting consumer good. If we give it some thought we can picture these boffins: probably 25-45 years old, predominantly male, university educated, an above-average number sporting black-framed glasses.
Let’s not diss their efforts: the last 30 years have seen an explosion in the rate of change as ICT has come to shape the way we interact with the world, but the boffins are only one side of the innovation story. End users – a much broader cross section of society than are respresented in the R&D lab – can rewrite the innovation script entirely.
The history of the mobile phone and its associated technologies is interesting for the way in which it is the users that have shaped the innovation path. SMS began life as a 2G add on, the boffins had no idea – not being 13-19 years old themselves – how texting would take off with younger users. Now, for some customer segments, texting is more important than voice services, as recognised by service plans that offer hundreds of free texts a month. Equally, no one predicted, when mobiles were high-status bricks welded to the heads of braying city types, how the developing world would embrace mobile technology as an affordable alternative to the infrastructure-intensive landline network (edited 15/04/10 to add link to NYT story outlining the scope of this developing world-led mobile innovation).
E-mail, web, mobile – the ways smart companies can interact with their innovation partners, their customers, have never been more numerous or timely.