User-driven Innovation: Innovation Contests | THE DAILY TRIBUNE | KINGDOM OF BAHRAIN

User-driven Innovation: Innovation Contests

How often do you express your views in a suggestion box or hit a smiley face (Emoji) button on Bahrain airport to voice your feedback on the quality of service?. Do we care about feedback on the service offered public sector? When is the last time you have noticed the sign that reads “We want to hear from you”; “Your feedback is important to us”? 

The objectives of user-driven innovation are to create new markets and stimulate demand. Innovation contests play a vital role to capture open innovation from a wide crowd. Historically, in 1869, Napoleon III offered a prize to anyone who could make a substitute for butter. To harness the talents of crowds, a number of innovation contests emerged including the Computer Chess game to beat the chess champion Kasparov and Innocentive innovation contest. 

Innovation with users is a key feature of sustainable firms that are keen to add-value and access new markets. For example, 3M is a model for an innovative technology-driven company that made innovative breakthroughs. This was achieved through devoting 15% of the time of staff on joint teams from technical and marketing departments. Innovation driven by insight from users and customers helps firms and public sector to devise sound products that meets users’ needs. The pioneering work of MIT professor Eric von Hippel, Democratizing Innovation, shed light on the role of lead users in in innovation and in identifying unarticulated needs. His research showed that in more than 1000 innovations across 9 industries, 60% on innovations were users-led. 

In a digital and networked world, open source design software offers immense opportunities to innovative ideas beyond imagination. Global firms like P&D, Nestle, 3M, Microsoft and Motorola work with users to generate ideas, test prototypes, give feedback, and innovate new products and services. The rationale is simple, since firms cannot hire the best talents, they can utilize open and user innovation.

Globally, examples of user-driven innovations are many and diverse like the ABS braking, Boeing process machine, design of circuit boards, Sony video game for Play Station. Also, many devices in sport and medicine were prototyped and invented by users like the medical imaging device.  User exploration is a commonly used method along with voice of the customer and empathy maps which offer new insights for the perceptions of customers’ “pains and gains”. 

Moreover, the role of living labs to address urban design and provide solutions to urban issues are crucial to develop smart and livable cities in GCC. In Nordic countries like Finland and Denmark, user-driven innovation is gaining ground and contributing to better quality service and growth in the public sector. This paradigm of public-private sector collaboration helps define a new social contract and enhance social cohesion. 

In sum, experience-driven innovation affect company, brand and product since human experience are evoked by nice experiences like the smell of expresso or Turkish coffee in the morning.  

Prof. Odeh Al-Jayyousi, Head of Innovation and Technology Management, Arabian Gulf University, Bahrain,  E-mail:

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