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Groundbreaking ideas come from “The stranger”

New international research on user-driven innovation shows that groundbreaking innovation does not only come from the core users, but also from more peripheral users, who are also engaged in other communities. The result will involve a change of focus for both research and the business community.

International research results from Aarhus University, Business and Social Sciences have produced some surprising results in connection with user-driven innovation in both research and the business community.

Specialists in both fields have typically focused their attention on core users – the so-called lead users – but focusing solely on the core users is not always the correct strategy to employ if the objective is to boost groundbreaking innovation.

- Our results show that changes and new innovation typically come from “the stranger”. In other words, a person who does not participate much in the community, but who potentially has a large network that covers many communities, says Lars Frederiksen, who, together with Linus Dahlander from the European School of Management and Technology in Berlin, has conducted the research.

The internationally acknowledged scholarly magazine ‘Organization Science’ has recently agreed to publish their research article.

In 2006, Lars Frederiksen had one of his articles published in the same field, and since then it has become the most cited article in Organization Science.

Lars Frederiksen underlines that there are still many good reasons to focus on the core users as well. They have high legitimacy in the community and often generate many prototypes and ideas. However, when it comes to the level of innovation they contribute to the community, they tend to take an inexpedient turn:

- In time, lead users can become a bit too narrow-minded with regard to which functions and features they believe are the “correct” ones to employ when developing a product.

- The peripheral users do not suffer from tunnel vision in the same way as lead users as they typically contribute different perspectives and knowledge from the outside, he adds.

Spot potential innovators
Businesses and public organisations, which deal with user-driven innovation, will, with advantage, be able to adjust their efforts according to the new results. According to Lars Frederiksen, they should not only focus on the personal features of the individual users, which is what they primarily do today.

- Better knowledge of the users’ positions in the community can be a great advantage. This could be done by collecting data about the areas in which the users are active, who they communicate with, how much they communicate with each other, and the areas they are particularly active in, explains Lars Frederiksen.

To ensure that the community continues to be open in connection with the innovation process, Lars Frederiksen suggests that businesses and organisations inspire the core users they already have in the community to increase their activity outside of the community by. For instance by sending them links regarding other related communities and topics:

- Basically, it is a matter of broadening the horizon of the users who have a mindset that is a bit too narrow, so that they can get new inspiration to contribute to the community, says Lars Frederiksen.


  • The two researchers have observed the user-driven community facilitated by the online music software manufacturer Propellerhead. They have chosen this community because it has existed for a long time and its users have generated a great deal of innovation.
  • The two researchers’ results are generated on the basis of a triangulation between data from questionnaires, digital monitoring of the entire communication in Propellerhead’s community (approximately 151,000 messages shared between 8,500 people) and “content encoding” of 5,000 individual messages. In addition to this, interviews with users, product developers and the CEO of Propellerhead were conducted.
  • The research is among the first contributions to underline that the focus should not only be on the personality features of innovative users in order to understand their innovation behaviour. The internal and external social activity of the users should also be identified to explain the innovation activities. The focus should, to a greater extent, be on each individual’s position in various networks and the gap between their internal and external network activities.
  • Lars Frederiksen is one of Denmark’s leading researchers in the field of community-based innovation strategies. It is a matter of how a company can reach out to users in order to employ and contribute to the knowledge, which is embedded in the community of those who use a product.
  • On1 July 2011, a seminar took place at Aarhus University, Business and Social Sciences, at which one of the creators of user-driven innovation, Erik Von Hippel of MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) was the keynote speaker. Lego also participated in the seminar and presented their work with online communities and “the next steps”. Read more about the event.










Lars Frederiksen, Visiting Research Fellow
Aarhus University, Business and Social Sciences
Department of Business Administration
Office: (+45) 89 48 89 21
Mobile: (+45) 53 60 88 42