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New research suggests the traditional division of labor between innovators and customers is breaking down as more individual consumers invent and improve products on their own. Patricia Cohen reports in The New York Times:

“Tinkering is challenging a deeply entrenched tenet of economic theory: that producers, not consumers, are the ones who innovate. […]

Financed by the British government, Eric A. von Hippel [a professor of technological innovation at M.I.T.’s Sloan School of Management] and his colleagues last year completed the first representative large-scale survey of consumer innovation ever conducted.

What the team discovered, described in a paper that is under review for publication, was that the amount of money individual consumers spent making and improving products was more than twice as large as the amount spent by all British firms combined on product research and development over a three-year period.”

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