Better Results from a Better Pool of People

Published Mar-13-11

Open innovation with customers leads to novel ideas and new products.

MUJI, Japan

The Story:

Better Results from a Better Pool of People Customer-led innovation is one of the most exciting developments in open innovation and it builds on the passion, ingenuity and creativity of a brand’s loyal consumers.

We are no longer passive consumers; we are creative consumers, and forward thinking companies are inviting us to help them come up with their next generation of products and services.

In a conventional “closed” system of innovation a company only has a small information and talent pool from which to draw from, which can be somewhat limiting. But open innovation enlarges the pool creating the potential for better results.

Companies such as the large Japanese retail chain MUJI use external customer-generated ideas as well as internal R&D support to advance their technologies.

Generating Ideas

MUJI welcomes and builds on the suggestions of its consumers. Every month it receives thousands of ideas and submissions for new products or improvements to existing ones. They are sent in via e-mail, feedback forms on the company’s website or on postcards attached to product catalogues.

Open Innovation Contests

In addition the company has also hosted a number of annual open innovation contests. The MUJI Award 02 held in 2007 was one of its most successful, attracting 3, 422 entries from 47 countries. The guiding theme of the competition that year was ‘RE’ as in ‘re-figure’ or ‘re-use’ and participants could interpret that in any way they liked.

The Gold Prize went to a group called NIIMI for its eco-friendly ‘Towel with further options’. This concept design makes it easier for people to convert a towel into bath mats, flannels, floor cloths and dust cloths, once it is no longer used as a towel. It has a vertical and horizontal textured surface that will not produce pile-fabric waste when cut, and the lines act as convenient markers for cutting.

“Although the winning entry for the Gold Prize may not appear to be new if you know the textile production process, it made me RE-think something,” said Kazuko Koiki, MUJU Adviser and Creative Director and one of the open innovation competition’s judges. “Japanese people used to re-use yukata for diapers or floor cloths. This entry simply told me that being eco-friendly was this easy

Paradigm Shift

Involving customers in open innovation is not a straightforward task and it does not suit every company. Developing products and services with them requires effort; the process must be efficient and effective and it must be remembered that not all customers are suited to the open innovation process.

But many organisations large and small are now living proof of the paradigm shift in innovation that crowdsourcing and open innovation have created. And that is that innovation is not something that a company rarely embarks on alone. It is an interactive process involving numerous players that can include suppliers, customers, non-customers and employees from disparate organizations.

Accelerated Time Frames

As MUJI knows only too well open innovation can mean that products are developed in shorter time frames and with less investment than those projects or products that are just the result of internal research and development. This does not mean that internal R&D departments are excluded, they play the same role as ever, but when a company can utilize both internal and external resources it enlarges its knowledge base exponentially. And better results can come from a better pool of people.

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