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Users: An underestimated source of innovation
Deepening our understanding of open and user innovation (10.01.2021)
Förderjahr 2020 / Stipendien Call #15 / ProjektID: 5023 / Projekt: Sabotage in crowdsourcing

Users are an underestimated source of innovation. What does this mean for individuals, businesses and society and how can the innovation potential be fully exploited?

What is innovation? That is a short question with an ambiguous answer. When asking this question to a group of people, you will probably receive a diverse set of interpretations. Most of them will have in common that innovation is about some kind of “change” or “improvement” in a societal, technical, or economical way. 

When typing innovation into Wikipedia, you receive a long article starting with the following sentence:

“Innovation is commonly defined as the "carrying out of new combinations" that include "the introduction of new goods, ... new methods of production, ... the opening of new markets, ... the conquest of new sources of supply ... and the carrying out of a new organization of any industry" However, many scholars and governmental organizations have given their own definition of the concept.” (Source:

This unclarity on the subject matter already shows that there is huge research potential in this field. One research stream within the innovation literature focuses on open and user innovation which describes the innovation activities of users. Open and user innovation has first been coined by MIT professor Eric von Hippel. In his book from 1988 “Sources of Innovation”, von Hippel demonstrates that innovation does not only take place on the side of producers (firms), but also on the side of consumers (users). Even though researchers and practitioners have widely acknowledged the innovation potential of users since then, a recent study by Bradonjic et al. (2019) has shown that decision makers’ underestimation of user innovation is still remarkable.

In order to better understand the phenomenon of user innovation, the Institute for Entrepreneurship & Innovation at the WU Vienna University of Economics & Business has launched the User Innovation Research Initiative. Concretely, the initiative searches for patterns and mechanisms of user innovation and develops or improves practical methods to harness user innovativeness for companies and society overall. For this purpose, the research is organized in four areas:

  1. Toolkits: Companies can equip their customers with virtual tools which allow them to design their own product. How does this work?  
  2. Innovative User Communities & Crowdsourcing: Users often form networks and informal groups - with highly innovative output. What can be learned from this?  
  3. Users & Entrepreneurs: User innovators might themselves exploit entrepreneurial opportunities. How do they add to industry development?  
  4. Lead User Research: Innovative potential is concentrated among lead users. How can they be identified?

As a PhD student at the Institute of Entrepreneurship & Innovation at the WU Vienna University of Economics and Business, I am also part of the User Innovation Research Initiative; my research is focused on deviant behaviors in crowdsourcing, like sabotage. In the coming months, I will regularly write about user innovation, crowdsourcing and the progress of my research in blog articles here on netidee.



Von Hippel, E. (1988). The sources of innovation. 

Bradonjic, P., Franke, N., & Lüthje, C. (2019). Decision-makers’ underestimation of user innovation. Research Policy, 48(6), 1354-1361.  


Open Innovation Innovation Entrepreneurship User Innovation Crowdsourcing WU Vienna

Richard Olbrecht

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@ the Institute for Entrepreneurship & Innovation, WU Vienna University of Economics and Business
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