It has long been assumed that companies develop new products for consumers, while consumers are passive recipients — merely buying and consuming what producers create. However, a multidecade effort by many researchers has shown that this traditional innovation paradigm is fundamentally flawed: Consumers themselves are a major source of product innovations.
Recently, this consumers-as-innovators pattern has led to the framing of a new innovation paradigm, in which consumers play a central and very active role. Rather than seeing consumers simply as “the market,” as the traditional innovation model has long taught, this new paradigm centers on consumers and other product users. It explains why consumers are very important innovators who often develop products on their own.
In this article, we begin by reporting on the large extent and scope of consumer innovation, as documented by first-ever national surveys. Next, we explain how the survey results lend support to a new user-centered innovation paradigm. Finally, we discuss implications of the new innovation paradigm for both consumer-innovators and companies.