Everyday Innovation

Have you ever modified something you bought, to make it work better, or to serve your own unique needs? Have you ever created something from scratch to solve a problem?

This is what innovation researchers call “consumer innovation” or “household innovation,” and it turns out it’s surprisingly common. MIT Professor Eric von Hippel, long famous for his studies of user innovation, has just published a fascinating study of household innovation in the United Kingdom.* Hippel and his colleagues did phone interviews with 1,173 adults, and found that 6.1 percent of adults in the U.K. had created something, or creatively modified something–that’s 2.9 million people! Among the household innovators, on average each of them had created eight innovations in the prior three years, innovations in many different categories, like these:

  • Craft and shop tools: “I created a jig to make arrows. The jig holds the arrow in place and turns at the same time…Jigs available on the market do not rotate.”
  • Sports and hobby: “I modified the cricket bat so it improves the play and contact with the ball.”
  • Dwelling related: “I wanted my washing machine to spin only. I modified it…I bridged one of the circuits and inserted a switch.”
  • Child related: “I colored two halves of a clock dial with different colors, so a child can easily see which side is past the hour and which before the hour. I used it to teach my kids to tell time.”
  • Pet related: “My dog was having trouble eating [because the food bowl kept sliding across the floor]. I used a flat piece of laminated wood and put an edge around it like a tray to stop her bowl from moving around the kitchen.”
  • Medical: “Because I have a spinal problem, I built a nearly diagonal slope for my keyboard. It is very handy for people who cannot look down when they are typing.”

Amazing evidence of the potential we all have to be creative!

Then, the researchers asked the innovators how much money they’d spent on their innovations. The average annual investment was 1,098 pounds; if you multiply by the 2.9 million projected consumer innovators, that’s a total expenditure of 3.2 billion pounds! In contrast, the total corporate R&D spending on consumer products in the UK in 2007 was about 2.2 billion. This means consumers spent more on innovation than the private sector! 

The study also found that very few of these household innovators attempted to patent their creations. In fact, a large number of them freely shared their ideas.

What a fascinating study of the importance of every creativity! It should inspire all of us to find our inner creator, and solve our own everyday problems. Do you have a story of household innovation?

*Eric von Hippel, Jeroen P. J. de Jong, Stephen Flowers (2012). “Comparing business and household sector innovation in consumer products: Findings from a representative study in the United Kingdom.” Management Science, Articles in advance (published online ahead of print), pp. 1-13.

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