More and more creative customer

The Economist has an appealing column about the rise of creative customers: "how and why smart companies are harnessing the creativity of their customers". Some excerpts I find informative:

How does innovation happen? The familiar story involves boffins in academic institutes and R&D labs. But lately, corporate practice has begun to challenge this old-fashioned notion. Open-source software development is already well-known. Less so is the fact that Bell, an American bicycle-helmet maker, has collected hundreds of ideas for new products from its customers, and is putting several of them into production. Or that Electronic Arts (EA), a maker of computer games, ships programming tools to its customers, posts their modifications online and works their creations into new games. And so on. Not only is the customer king: now he is market-research head, R&D chief and product-development manager, too.(...) This is not all new. (...) But the rise of online communities, together with the development of powerful and easy-to-use design tools, seems to be boosting the phenomenon, as well as bringing it to the attention of a wider audience, says Eric Von Hippel of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who is about to publish a book, “Democratising Innovation” (MIT Press). (...) DIY innovation [vow I like this concept] (...) Traditionally, firms have innovated by sending out market researchers to discover “unmet needs” among their customers. These researchers report back. The firm decides which ideas to develop and hands them over to project-development teams. Studies suggest that about three-quarters of such projects fail. Harnessing customer innovation requires different methods, says Mr Von Hippel. Instead of taking the temperature of a representative sample of customers, firms must identify the few special customers who innovate.

Well, marketing and user centered studies are more and more mixed all together and customers/users' needs are more and more took into account! There is really a strong momentum here...