A Further Source for Innovation

Utilizing the Digital Lead User Analysis

Marius Schnabel

Josh Cornau

A Further Source for Innovation - Cover

This thesis deals with the early phases of innovation processes in companies. Among other things, companies use trends to perceive technological, social, and economic change. In the research with people from the innovation sector it could be found out that it is difficult to transfer needs, which are the basis of a trend, to customer needs in the own sector. In this context, the 'digital lead user analysis' proved to be a very time-saving and promising approach. It is used to analyze the needs of specific users in online forums. The analysis was carried out exemplarily in two areas. Based on this, a methodology was developed on how it can be used in an innovation process.

"The future of successful project management involves doing the right projects—not just doing projects right"
Michael O‘Brochta

In design courses, students often ask themselves what the next innovation project may be about. The topic should offer opportunities and also be an interesting and new approach. As Michael O'Brochta says, asking the right question is half the battle.

We look in vain for support from design thinking models such as the Double Diamond, because a problem to solve is always assumed at the beginning. The problem of finding a topic is not only found in academic courses, it also occurs in the business world and its innovation processes. The past has shown that companies that do not actively engage in finding new extraordinary innovations can quickly be driven out of the market. For example, the video rental company Blockbuster was forced out of the market by the disruptive innovation of the Netflix company.

In order to create a successful innovation as a company, it is, necessary to handle customer needs, new technologies, and matching ideas. To do this, innovation scouts keep track of the changes in the environment, new technologies, and ideas that have arisen within the company. In this way, they control the innovation pipeline with a view to the future. With the help of technologies, scouts look for signals that, taken together, represent a trend. This research can be important for the future direction of the company. The aim is to minimize uncertainties for the company. In particular, technologies, market developments, and social/political developments are taken into account, which can indicate future products. This is often referred to as the "trend-based innovation process".

However, it is difficult to integrate customer needs into the trend-based innovation process, especially in the case of future-oriented projects. It was found that it is difficult to transfer needs that underlie a trend to customer needs in their own sector. Also, in classic user research, one encounters the problem that customers usually cannot detach themselves from current offers of the manufacturer. This phenomenon is also described as "functional fixedness".

The aim of this thesis was to analyze and compare the existing procedures of trend-based innovation processes in companies. Based on this analysis, methodologies were researched, tested, and extended in order to better integrate customer needs into a trend-based innovation process. The digital lead user method by Eric von Hippel proved to be particularly useful. This method was made applicable and repeatable in a process for others.

In the digital lead user analysis, online forums are searched and filtered for innovative user posts with the help of natural language processing. On the one hand, companies can use these innovations as inspiration, and on the other hand, needs can be identified that lead to new innovation projects. Digital lead user analysis saves an enormous amount of time compared to conventional lead user identification. This method was made applicable and repeatable in a process for others. A process with worksheets, code and an app was developed to find digital lead users online (quickly).

"[Lead users] innovate when the market does not offer products or services that meet their needs."
Jens Lehnen

Anatomy of a Lead User
Lead User Analysis Flow - Sheet 1 Workshop
Lead User Analysis Flow - Sheet 2 Searchfield
Lead User Analysis Flow - Sheet 3 Data Analysis
Lead User Analysis Flow - Sheet 4 Manual Selection
Lead User Analysis Flow - Tools

Within the framework of the project, methods, hurdles, and best practices in the innovation process was elaborated and documented by means of qualitative interviews with practitioners from the field of innovation management and innovation scouting. Likewise, common innovation processes and trend models were reviewed and analyzed through literature research. Based on the question, methodologies were also analyzed with which customer needs can be integrated into a trend-based innovation process. Especially the lead user method was also technologically tested and methodically implemented. It was applied to two markets as examples and the resulting experiences were discussed with experts from the industry and integrated into the process.

In design studies, we often came up against the question of what topic to work on next. We will also come across this question in the future in our profession. For example what topic will the innovation team work on in the next project? Especially since designers are starting earlier and earlier in innovation processes, we want to create tools that can be used in these early phases to create meaningful products in the future and solve real problems for the customers. Many designers draw their methodologies from ethnography. The netnography, a translation of ethnography to the web, is still a rarely used field for designers. Therefore the digital lead user method creates a natural extension of the designer's toolbox of methods. Thereby another opportunity is created to involve customers in the innovation process.

A Further Source for Innovation - Book Cover