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LEAD Innovation Blog

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

Date: 27-Apr-2018
Posted by: Alexander NOVAK
Category: LEAD User Method

The 3 biggest challenges in the LEAD user search


If a company's goal is not only to continuously develop its range of services, but also to achieve significant changes in the established business unit - radical innovations (new products, processes, services, services or even business models) - which leave the previous thinking and range of services behind, then the LEAD user method conceived by MIT professor Eric von Hippel in the 1970s is particularly suitable for this purpose. Who LEAD Users are, what characteristics they have and above all which 3 challenges the search for these "LEAD users" brings with them for the innovation development, read in this blog post.

Who are LEAD Users?

LEAD users are people who deal intensively with a problem in an application area for which there is no suitable solution on the market. These users feel a need much earlier than the masses or the average customer. The LEAD user is differentiated from the customer of the main market by a perceived need, for which the market has no or only an inadequate offer at the moment. The needs of LEAD users are potential needs of the rest of the market and therefore offer potential to increase innovation and innovation success.

A further feature of this species is that it is expected to be of great benefit to humans if they are already able to solve their problems today. The need for a solution to their problem or dissatisfaction with the existing market offer as well as their individual knowledge and skills sometimes give these people the motivation to innovate - to fiddle about, to tinker.

Product Folder LEAD User Products


Which features distinguish LEAD users?

If the LEAD user has not only a so-called requirement information but also solution information, he or she often develops his or her own prototypes or application-ready solutions. In addition to this kind of pioneering status that LEAD users have regarding market and technical trends, MIT professor Eric von Hippel attributes the following characteristics to them:

  • LEAD users feel that needs, which will become established in the market in the future, much earlier than the broad mass of users.
  • LEAD users profit at an early stage from innovations that can meet these needs. Therefore, they often become active themselves and develop solutions.

People with LEAD user properties often exist, but they may not yet have become active in concrete applications, and do not know that they are regarded as LEAD users with their skills. If these persons can be identified by means of suitable methods and won for a participation, then it is possible to innovatively solve a concrete development project of an enterprise, a strategic search field.

In practice, this happens within the framework of a 4-phase LEAD user project, for example, where in the final phase the joint concept development between manufacturer and identified LEAD users takes place in a workshop. The creative potential of the participating LEAD users will be promoted by using group-dynamic effects by breaking out of existing thought patterns using different creativity techniques and generating new solutions and concepts for the search field.

Where do the LEAD users come from?

The LEAD users found with the method of the same name are not only direct users or users in the manufacturer's field, but also come from other so-called analogue industries. They have the same basic needs, but to a higher extreme or under conditions that have made its solution appear more urgent in the past.

Both groups are involved - LEAD users from the target market, the direct customer and user area of the product to be innovated, process, etc. and LEAD users from the analogue industries. In other words, industries and fields of work that appear to have little to do with the affected area at first glance, but where similar problems or approaches to solutions make it possible to draw parallels.

A well-known example of this is the development of ABS systems in the automotive industry. In hazardous situations, the tendency of the wheels to lock is to be counteracted by regulating the brake pressure at short intervals in the event of severe braking. The principle originates from aviation. The LEAD user in this example was an F, where the same problem (blocking inclination of the wheels and thus breaking out of the track) existed in a more extreme form than in the automotive industry. For this reason, a suitable solution was first sought and implemented. The search for a solution to the blocking problem in the automotive industry has therefore benefited from a search for solutions in other areas.

3 Challenges in finding LEAD users

In the 4 phases of a LEAD user project, you will encounter the biggest challenge in phase 3 - the search and identification of LEAD users. Finally, it is important to identify the people who have the greatest potential for technology transfer. These people are the future participants who develop concrete solution concepts and who, together with the exchange with highly qualified experts and the innovation team of the client company, are supposed to generate the actual added value - a high level of productivity.

In order to reach potential LEAD users, for example, the ordering company provides a sample of its customers that corresponds to the desired profile. The external innovation management service provider is now screening out 10 LEAD users for each group (target market plus analogous industries) in several stages.

But what makes it so difficult to find the right LEAD users for a particular development project?

Here are the 3 biggest challenges in the LEAD User search:


1. precise search field & definition of LEAD user profile

Already in phase 1 & 2 of the LEAD User Project the most important challenges lie in the LEAD User Search. With the right search field definition and fine-tuning, the basis for the project is laid. A search field defines the content of the search for innovation ideas, based on the formulated project field. It is important to find a balance between the breadth of content and the thematic focus of this field. If the search field is too large, i. e. too broadly formulated, it is possible that information and ideas remain arbitrary and are not specific enough to identify LEAD users for a concrete application development in a subsequent step.

The definition of the desired LEAD user profile must also not be ignored in this phase. For the successful search for LEAD users, selection criteria must be determined in advance so that specific users can be filtered out of the mass of users. These criteria include trend leadership and the need for a particular solution.

2. working with the right analogies

In addition to the target market, analogue industries in particular are very well suited to looking beyond the horizon and providing valuable input from outside. For example, the best are those fields of work and industries that have a higher level of technological development than their own. However, the real challenge here lies in Phase 2 (Trend and needs analysis) in the specific determination of these analogue fields of application for one's own development project, the own industry.

The correct understanding of the term analogy is crucial. In practice, one has to deal with other areas of the economy than one's own company, but in which the same technology is used as in the target field or in which similar problems and questions exist. LEAD users can contribute their knowledge from these domains in an interactive value-added process and thus considerably expand the scope of possible ideas and solutions.


3. recognition of need and solution information

In the extensive research of the LEAD User search it is of course essential to find and win a LEAD user. If the person in question is an "advanced user/user", you can find out whether he or she is an "advanced user/user" by means of a multi-stage telephone procedure, the LEAD user interview. The potential LEAD user is contacted in advance, informed about the project, made curious and asked to make a second phone call.

During this second meeting, the potential LEAD user is then asked about market trends and emerging customer needs. In addition, if he is a LEAD user, he reveals specific needs and solution information and talks about the core functions or characteristics that a new product or service must have in order to meet the customer's focused needs.

The following questions are particularly well suited to the challenge of identifying a LEAD user in an interview:

  • In your opinion, what are the main problems and weaknesses of product XY that is currently available on the market?
  • Which characteristics or functions would a comparable product XY have to have in order to become a success in 3-5 years?
  • What ideas do you have for a new product that could make up for today's weaknesses?
  • Have you already implemented your ideas?
  • Do you know people or companies that are already innovating in this field?
  • What do you think are the most dynamic developments in this search field?

Experience has shown that the LEAD user's trend leadership and his or her need to recognize innovation on the telephone is the most difficult thing to do. This challenge culminates in the personal visit of the LEAD User Project Manager to the creative and operational sphere of the LEAD User. This interview is about confirming the findings of the second interview. The project manager also evaluates whether the person in question is suitable for workshops. Something that is very difficult to determine in advance on a telephone call.


Conclusion: The 3 biggest challenges in LEAD User Search

Undoubtedly, it is not easy to identify those people who, on the basis of their skills and know-how, are best suited to a search field of an innovation project. It also shows that the LEAD User Search with its challenges is more than just the identification of the participants. It is about the goal-oriented and precise processing of 4 interrelated and interdependent phases of a project, which in its LEAD user methodology is based on the approach of open innovation and focuses above all on the "fuzzy front end".

LEAD User Method

Alexander NOVAK

Born in Vienna, Austria. Initially a research analyst, he now works as a Business Development Manager at LEAD Innovation and is responsible for inbound marketing.

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