External Sources of Innovation and Design

Beyond internal idea generation techniques, there are also several external methods for generating and harvesting ideas.  A good source of innovation and design is the Contest.  A design contest generates ideas from around the world from professionals, students, and everyone in between. Contests range from the X-Prize  with ambitious goals like personal spaceflight to automotive design competitions such as the Peugeot Design Contest.  These contests can generate lots of concepts and goodwill for the company and sponsors at minimal cost, while at the same time helping out winners with prize money and publicity.

Companies can also establish partnerships with universities and professional consultants.  When internal resources aren’t available and/or you need outside knowledge and perspective, this is the way to go.  There are many capable research departments and design consultancies more than willing to take on your work and your funding!

For more information on this topic, I recommend you go to Professor Eric Von Hippel’s website.   He lists several other excellent sources including:

1.  Making design toolsets available online which allow customers to actually design their own products.  Think of it as a product configurator on steroids. 

2.  Idea submission websites similar to old fashioned suggestion boxes.  Some examples include Dell’s IdeaStorm, Cisco’s i-Prize, and myStarbucksidea. Visitors to the site can make product or business suggestions and vote/comment on ideas. Sometimes, this concept is referred to as ‘crowdsourcing’ or ‘co-creation’ – where companies leverage customers and the general public to get involved in the design of new products or services.

3.  Ideas generated by ‘Lead Users’ such as automobile clubs where members take it upon themselves to modify and upgrade their vehicles. Here, loyal and passionate customers on the leading edge of style and performance take your product and enhance it to meet their needs – often before the general public (or your company) have caught on to these trends. You can learn more about Lead Users at the Professor’s website mentioned above.