Franke, Nikolaus and von Hippel, Eric and Schreier, Martin
Finding commercially attractive user innovations:
A test of lead user theory.
Journal of Product Innovation Management, 23 (4).
Firms and governments are increasingly interested in learning to exploit the value of lead
user innovations for commercial advantage. Improvements to lead user theory are needed to
inform and guide these efforts. In this paper we empirically test and confirm the basic tenants of
lead user theory. We also discover some new refinements and related practical applications.
Using a sample of users and user-innovators drawn from the extreme sport of kite surfing,
we analyze the relationship between the commercial attractiveness of innovations developed by
users and the intensity of the lead user characteristics those users display. We provide a first
empirical analysis of the independent effects of its two key component variables. In our
empirical study of user modifications to kite surfing equipment, we find that both components
independently contribute to identifying commercially attractive user innovations. Component 1
(the "high expected benefits" dimension) predicts innovation likelihood, and component 2 (the
"ahead of the trend" dimension) predicts both the commercial attractiveness of a given set of
user-developed innovations and innovation likelihood due to a newly-proposed innovation supply
side effect. We conclude that the component variables in the lead user definition are indeed
independent dimensions and so neither can be dropped without loss of information - an important
matter for lead user theory. We also find that adding measures of users' local resources can
improve the ability of the lead user construct to identify commercially-attractive innovations
under some conditions.
The findings we report have practical as well as theoretical import. Product modification
and development has been found to be a relatively common user behavior in many fields. Thus,
from 10% to nearly 40% of users report having modified or developed a product for in-house use
(in the case of industrial products) or for personal use (in the case of consumer products) in fields
sampled to date. As a practical matter, therefore, it is important to find ways to selectively
identify the user innovations that manufacturers will find to be the basis for commercially
attractive in the collectivity of user-developed innovations. We discuss the implications of these
findings for theory and also for practical applications of the lead user construct, i.e. how variables
used in lead user studies can profitably be adapted to fit specific study contexts and purposes. (author's abstract)