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LEAD Innovation Blog

Read our latest articles on innovation management and innovation in a wide range of industries.

Date: 03-Oct-2018
Posted by: Michael PUTZ
Category: LEAD User Method

New patents: why 14 out of 15 LEAD User projects are successful


Innovations are no coincidence, they can be planned. With the LEAD User Method you use the knowledge and motivation of experts who are themselves interested in improving a product or in completely new solutions. This gives you concepts for new patents that are sure to be successful on the market. We can prove this with our success statistics. In this blog post you will also learn how successful the LEAD User Method really is, and that it leads to success even with tricky tasks.


Open innovation allows us to look beyond our own nose

The LEAD User Method is an approach that belongs to the instruments of open innovation. With all these techniques, you involve the outside world in your innovation process. Many world-famous companies have already developed numerous patents with open innovation and launched products on the market that are also particularly successful. 3M, for instance. The multi-technology company, which employs around 90,000 people worldwide, has been using the LEAD user Method for several years.


LEAD Users bring out signature Innovations

In the early 1990s, Eric von Hippel, the founder of the LEAD User Method, compared the market opportunities of 3M innovations. The professor at the Sloan School of Management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has shown in his research that patents co-developed by LEAD Users have eight times as high sales potential as products created using other innovation methods. Another finding: LEAD User projects usually led to completely new product lines - real signature innovations. More traditional innovation methods, on the other hand, usually only resulted in improvements or extensions to existing product families.

Handbook LEAD User Method


Breakthrough innovation despite internal resistance

How the LEAD User Method can produce breakthrough innovations under difficult conditions is demonstrated by a project that LEAD Innovation successfully completed for a client company last year.

The engineers and employees of the company's own research and development department of an international electronics group had faced a problem for decades: they wanted to develop a circuit breaker that consumes little to no power, but still offers greater protection against short circuits.

After a roadmap project carried out together with LEAD Innovation, this hard nut became topical again. This strategic plan for innovation projects made it quite clear that low-current or currentless circuit breakers are an issue of the future that the company had to face. Circuit breakers are used in many devices that are operated with electric current. The small but important component can be found in washing machines as well as in industrial plants, construction machinery or medical equipment.


Too much knowledge can be blind

Two phenomena occur in challenges where experts have been biting their teeth out for a long time. On the one hand, the amount of available knowledge is growing. On the other hand, there is an increasingly strong negative effect, which experts call functional fixedness.

This term from psychology describes the phenomenon that people use certain objects only for their actual purpose and do not come up with the idea of using them in any other way. Translated into the world of innovations, functional fixedness means that experts and developers only think ahead in those areas in which they are looking for solutions or already think they are very close to them. They are not allowed to look at completely new, more promising ways. It was precisely in this impasse that the aforementioned electronics company found itself.


Courage for difficult search field was rewarded

Despite this extremely difficult condition, the management decided to engage in a search field that many of the company's employees regarded as a perpetual motion machine themselves. But then came the surprise: During the two-day LEAD User Conference, the LEAD Users were able to develop a patentable concept for an energy-saving circuit breaker together with several employees of the company and the LEAD Innovation team.

One of the success factors here were the: LEAD Users from another industry. In this case they came from medical technology and brought in their knowledge of pacemakers. When developing this device, the engineers faced almost the same challenge: they had to find a technology that consumes little energy and provides reliable protection against short circuits.


Company overcame the "not-invented-here syndrome".

However, this concept met with resistance within the electronics group. A phenomenon that often occurs when a company's employees have not developed an innovation themselves. Experts call this "not-invented-here syndrome". However, the management once again showed courage, applied for a patent and finally successfully launched the product on the market.

Our statistics confirm success of the LEAD User Method

This challenging LEAD User Project is one of 15 that we accompanied last year. Of these, 14 concepts have also produced patents. Sometimes a LEAD User project produces several patents at once. If there is no patent at the end of a project, this is not necessarily a failure. Not all new concepts require a patent - but they can certainly take the company further and make it fit for the future.


Conclusion - New patents: Why 14 out of 15 LEAD User Projects are successful

The survey conducted by Eric von Hippel at 3M has shown that LEAD user projects generate innovations that promise high sales and can open up new business areas for the company. The high success rate of the LEAD User Method can be certified by the results of our projects. It is important to enforce the method and its results even against internal resistance. This is shown once again by the case study described above. Remember: the higher the degree of innovation, the more difficult it is to impose the concept of innovation against internal barriers. In short: the road is rocky, but patents are waiting for signature innovations, which will secure the future of your company or even allow you to enter completely new markets.

4 Phases of the LEAD User Method

Michael PUTZ

Born in the Salzkammergut. After working for Shell and Porsche, he concentrated on innovation management as a study assistant at the Innovation Department of the Vienna University of Economics and Business Administration. In 2003 he founded LEAD Innovation and manages the company as Managing Partner. Lectures at MIT, in front of companies like Google or NASA.

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