Outside Innovation: How Your Customers Will Co-Design Your Company's Future, by Patricia B. Seybold. New York: Collins, October 2006. ISBN: 0061135909, about 26$.
This book review has been overdue for more than two months when I got the pre-version of Patricia Seybold's new book, "Outside Innovation". I immediately read it with very large interest, as Seybold is one of the authors I have quoted often in my own books. In her bestselling title 'Customer.com', she provided a great analysis of how the internet is changing consumer markets. So meeting her here in Boston for several occasions in the past year and discussing with her some ideas of her new book was a great opportunity. Here is the result of her recent research: In "Outside Innovation", Patricia Seybold provides one of the first general-management books on co-creation of value between firms and customers.
Well, there have been other books on this topic before (starting with the great, but today almost forgotten book by Rafael Ramirez and Richard Norman on Value Co-Creation [1994: 'Designing Interactive Strategy'], Prahald & Ramaswamy's  highly abstract book on customer co-creation, and of course Eric von Hippel's  fantastic review of three decades of academic research on user innovation in 'Democratizing Innovation'.
But Patricia Seybold's book is full of great and very up-to-date case studies that make the idea of value co-creation really lively and accessible. She describes (in great detail and with plenty of background information) many classic examples like Lego's co-development of the new Mindstorm toy, Threadless, Flickr, BBC Backstage or National Semiconductor, but has also some great new (at least for me) examples of customer-centric innovation like the development of a new fitness machine (Koko Fitness – great story and concept) or SEI Wealth Networks.
And her pitch line why her book is important tackles one of the main problems of integrating customer and users in a firm's innovation process:
"The good news is that customer-led innovation is one of the most predictably successful innovation processes. The bad news is that many managers and executives don’t yet believe in it. Today, that’s their loss. Ultimately, it may be their downfall."
I hope that her books can support more mangers to consider customer/user integration not only as a nice add-on pilot initiative, but to make it a crucial part of the company's core strategy. The book, however, offers no recipes or frameworks how a manager could do so. Its core contribution is to document and describe what is happening in a world that is not any longer dominated by companies creating things FOR users. And as Seybold does this in great detail and style, this record of promising practices may convince managers to turn away from old prejudices.
Patricia Seybold bridges in her book between innovation and operation, between users and customers, between leading edge contributors and average customers. Eric von Hippel strongly differentiates between these levels. He argues that for functional novel innovation, firms have not to listen to their present customers but to search for "lead users" who face a specific need ahead of the market and have turned this need already into a solution for themselves. In many cases, these lead users are in a different domain than the manufacturer and are not its present customers. Gathering input from lead users thus is totally different to market research methods of any kind.
Seybold uses the term "lead customer" to describe a group of a firm's current customers who are truly innovative: "These may not be your most vocal customers, your most profitable customers, or your largest customers. But they are the customers who care deeply about the way in which your products or services could help them achieve something they care about." Getting their input may also be the result of a more conventional market research approach.
This distinction is worthwhile to note when you read the book. Otherwise, without previous knowledge, you may get a bit confused where in her cases real innovation starts and more general customer-focused business strategies end. But as she argues, this is exactly the beauty of co-designing with customers: You start with some small steps, perhaps within the context of a mass-customization-toolkit, and suddenly your customers want more and get motivated to innovate on their own.
My conclusion: A book very worthwhile to buy and read. Its great collection of case studies will inspire you to look for more and deeper information on this topic – or to start to brainstorm immediately how you can benefit from the creative potential of your customers.
For abstracts from the book and an insight into the cases, have a look in Patricia Seybold's blog, http://outsideinnovation.blogs.com.