Reinventing innovation

<a href="http://www.ie.edu/eng/sobreie/sobreie_expertos_detalle.asp?id_exp=258">Salvador Aragón</a>. Professor. IE Business School

29 May 2007

As companies seek to reinvent innovation, the client is emerging as a key figure in the process.

Perhaps one of the most surprising aspects of innovation is its capacity for reinventing itself. This "innovation of innovation" exposes new scenarios and throws fresh light on the innovation potential of the Spanish economy and that of its economic players.

The key to this reinvention of innovation lies with the question of who innovates. Until now, the answer was unanimous: innovation came from research centres, corporations or a crossover of the two. However, our attention is now moving towards a new innovative player: the client.

Traditionally, the client was considered a consumer whose role is limited to purchasing and using the goods and services that were offered to him by the company. His impact on the development of innovative proposals was limited to accepting or rejecting them when they reached the market. An excellent example of this process is the way we react when we read a book.

After the consumer-client came the interactive client who is capable of establishing permanent dialogue with the company and evaluating what the market has to offer. The consumer who purchases a selection of songs from a digital music provider instead of buying a CD is an excellent example of this transformation.

However, the crucial jump comes when the client is bestowed with the tools for intervening directly in the design, configuration and production of a product or service. In this case, the client himself can become the source of innovation in a company.

There are many examples of this kind. Who would have imagined that PayPal, a form of payment created by eBay users, would become a payment system of global importance? Or in the world of media, did George Lucas think that the fans of Star Wars would be capable of creating a film to continue the saga entitled Star War Revelations? And, finally, in the world of software, did it ever occur to Bill Gates that the main threat to his operating system would come from user communities?

These examples show the innovative potential hidden among our clients that needs only the appropriate outlet and incentives to yield new business opportunities. The key for putting this potential to use has two complementary sides: belonging and recognition.

Most of the time, relations with our clients are merely transactional. If we want them to become "street innovators", they must feel they belong to our company. This is achieved by guaranteeing high levels of satisfaction, while providing elements of identity that strengthen the sense of belonging. That is how Apple successfully turned its clients into iPod addicts.

The second aspect is recognition. Each contribution our clients make to our company must be valued and, above all, recognized. Vanity, it must be remembered, has an extraordinary power to motivate.

By promoting the sense of belonging and recognition, companies place clients at the centre of the innovation process—something that is becoming increasingly commonplace in other countries.

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