As Sandro Kaulartz recently explored, it’s the users or consumers of products who are the real pioneers of innovation. As an old-school skateboarder and BMX rider, I saw this first hand as we mixed and matched parts to master tricks or set up our gear for the perfect cruise.

Lead users live the necessity that sparks invention, whether it’s in a sport like skateboarding, or DIY areas like cooking or home improvement, or knowledge work in sectors like high tech or medical equipment. Even better, lead users often want to share their ideas and gather around their garage or clubs (old school) or Subreddits or Facebook groups (new school) to compare hacks and show off their latest gear.

Of course once these groups started gathering online, brands could more readily join in the conversation and use social listening – and AICI – to crunch through millions of threads and posts to see what they are saying, spot unmet needs, and find the latest hack that just may be the start of a new product or service line.

So, what do we really know about lead users? Professor Eric von Hippel of MIT coined this term, and has been studying this topic for a number of years (Ipsos is in fact a member of the MIT Innovation Lab where the professor leads a group of academics and practitioners to advance ideas for innovation). Professor von Hippel notes that lead users are “Ahead of an important market trend. They stand to benefit enough to innovate from the unfilled needs they see there.” In the video below he also explains how to find them, including using the types of machine learning-powered approaches that Synthesio offers.

Check out Professor von Hippel’s series on User Innovation here.

And tune in to our next webinar on Innovation Spaces where we will talk about the methods and tools available today to uncover lead user innovation.