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Innovation researcher Eric von Hippel introduced the concept of the Lead User in 1986 as part of his research in User Innovation. Lead Users are those customers who have the most advanced needs and are therefore most likely to be interested in innovations to the product they are buying.

This insight gave rise to the Lead User Method, whereby Lead Users are integrated into the ideation process. The underlying assumption is, that because of their superior motivation and knowledge, Lead Users will be able to supply the best ideas for product innovations. The Lead User Method is one of the most commonly cited examples of Open Innovation.

If this assumption is justified, then the Lead User Method will lead to incremental and perhaps even radical innovations, i.e. changes to existing products which improve their performance in a minor or perhaps even a major way. However, the method will not generate new product ideas; in particular, it will not lead to ideas for disruptive innovations, since these are not in the interest of a lead user. This deficiency of the Lead User Method is summed up nicely by a quote from Henry Ford:

If I had asked people want they wanted, they would have answered, „better horses“.

This observation leads to the concept of the Lead Non-User Method. In this method, non-users of the product are targeted as idea-givers. This concept is based on the rationale that non-users will have ideas that are outside the space inhabited by producer and users alike.

However, it is important to realise that not just any non-user will do; a Lead Non-User has to fulfil certain criteria. As is the case for Lead Users, Lead Non-Users must be on the cutting edge of their „non-userness“. For (a tongue-in-cheek!) example, a manufacturer of kitchenware might choose single men as lead non-users, since these are (presumably) an inept and unknowledgeable target group with respect to this type of product. More seriously, asking a senior citizen or a handicapped person for ideas on improving a mobile phone will yield very different results compared to asking a early-adopting teenager or jet-setting businessman.