Everyday Routines of Those Reinventing the Wheel

In early August, the XIV Open and User Innovation Conference took place at Harvard Business School. Konstantin Fursov, Head of the Unit for Analysis of R&D Performance and Research Fellow at the HSE ISSEK Laboratory for Economics of Innovation, was invited to participate in this event.

User innovation can be determined by content analysis of cases related to end users’ involvement in the development of new products, the evolution of certain industries, and creation of various innovations. The contemporary wave of such studies primarily aims at collecting statistical and other quantitative data in order to conduct comparative studies.

This user innovation conference is held every year in different countries by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard University. The event traditionally attracts many participants, who form a unified community of researchers and professionals.

Eric von Hippel, MIT Professor and creator of user innovation concept, learned from his European colleagues that, in 2014, Russian researchers conducted a quantitative survey of user innovation, and invited its authors to present and discuss their research results at the conference.

Konstantin Fursov’s Presentation

Researchers from HSE ISSEK reviewed several projects previously implemented in the UK, USA, Finland, and Japan (at the time of this presentation, the list had been expanded with further examples from the Netherlands, South Korea, and Sweden), and decided to draw up a ‘portrait’ of Russian ‘household innovators’ – people who invent something to solve everyday problems (‘user-innovators’). The results of their innovation activities can be both simple inventions, such as household tools or an exercise machine in a park nearby, and more complex solutions, such as mobile apps and modifications for bikes, cars, and agricultural machinery.

After presenting the results of their research to the journal Science of Public Policy (the paper has been accepted for publication), the Russian researchers continued their studies and, in particular, started focusing on interdisciplinary study of everyday practices and their impact on innovation.

The new project seeks to answer the following key questions:

  • What is the difference between everyday routines performed by user-innovators and other people?
  • Which of them can serve as an incentive for innovation?

The survey included a block of variables describing respondents’ everyday practices, such as media and internet consumption, interactions with state bodies, and civil activities, as well as use of new technologies. Sets of such practices are used to reflect the respondents’ lifestyles, as well as provide some additional opportunities to identify user-innovators.

Innovative Altruism

One particular characteristic of Russian innovators is a predominating altruistic motivation with respect to innovation. Users in Russia are willing to solve problems they might be facing and consider solutions to a particular problem as their ‘main profit’. Furthermore, they are eager to share such new ideas with friends, colleagues, and other people in their immediate community, and rarely seek to commercialize their solutions. As such, entering the market is not an incumbent motive and prerequisite for innovative activities.

In addition, the percentage of user-innovators in Russia is not only bigger as compared to other countries, but their socio-demographic profile and geographical origin are also different. While user-innovators in most other countries are typically people with higher education and a good amount of wealth living big cities, in Russia, only half of such innovators fit this profile, while the other half tend to earn medium-sized incomes, hold a tertiary education and live in small towns or villages. People cut off from developed city infrastructure, educational opportunities and without high incomes, turned out to be just as inventive as more ‘privileged’ innovators.

People Need Time to Adapt to New Ideas

This was the first time Russian researchers studied user innovation directly (the few previous studies of this topic in Russia were carried out by foreign scholars), relying on an original theoretical approach. Such a perspective has helped to enrich the initial economic analysis with a new sociological interpretation. The reaction from the researchers who gathered at Harvard was generally modest. Some conference participants stated on its sidelines that the problem setting in this research turned out to be rather surprising for them, adding that the research community needs more time to think it through.

Prepared by Ekaterina Tarnovskaya