Listening to the Gilmor Gang podcast yesterday (great discussions on Windows Live, conversation with Robert Scoble, and Doc Searls nails it once again), one of the panelists mentioned Eric Von Hippel’s work on “user-driven innovation” that had been featured in a podcast of Michael Tiemann’s presentation at the last MySQL conference. Michael also mentions Von Hippel’s work and his HBR article (May 2002, if memory serves) in his presentation on “The Open Source Triple Play.”
It’s a vast simplification to summarize Von Hippel’s work as “give the users the tools and they will solve the problem” but much of the work on Von Hippel’s site (including video tutorials, two books under the Creative Commons license, and articles – bravo!) points towards that theme. Well worth a look.
FoxPro developers can recognize similar patterns in our ability to embed tools such as Stonefield Query and FireFox! inside our applications, allowing the users to develop the complex reports that lets them run their business and extend the reach of the application. Gilmor Gang members were speaking more of Web Services and AJAX and extending services such as Google Search, Maps, Yahoo! and Microsoft offerings. The scale changes when you move from offering tools in a proprietary application to exposing these tools to the entire World-Wide Web.
Provide users with easy-to-use tools and they will build the solutions they need. Isn’t that what fired up the PC Revolution in the 80s? Isn’t that what real innovation has always been about?
“Man is a tool-using Animal. Nowhere do you find him without tools;
without tools he is nothing, with tools he is all.” — Thomas Carlyle
“A small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed,
it’s the only thing that ever has.” — Margaret Mead