2016-17 Papers

von Hippel, Eric, and Georg von Krogh (2016) “Identifying viable ‘need-solution pairs’:Problem solving without problem formulation” Organization Science

Abstract: Problem-solving research, and formal problem-solving practice as well, begins with the assumption that a problem has been identified or formulated for solving. The problem-solving process then involves a search for a satisfactory or optimal solution to that problem. In contrast, we propose that, in informal problem solving, a need and a solution are often discovered together, and tested for viability as a need-solution pair. For example, one may serendipitously discover a new solution, and assess it to be worth adopting even though the “problem” it would address had not previously been in mind as an object of search — or even awareness. In such a case, problem identification and formulation if done at all, comes only after the discovery of the need-solution pair.
We argue that discovery of viable need-solution pairs without problem formulation may have advantages over problem-initiated problem-solving methods under some conditions. First, it removes the often considerable costs associated with problem formulation. Second, it eliminates the constraints on possible solutions that any problem formulation will inevitably apply. 

Stock, Ruth, Eric von Hippel, Christian Holthaus, and Lennart Gillert (2017) “Problem solving without problem formulation: Documenting need-solution pairs in a laboratory setting.” MIT Sloan School of Management working paper https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2902117

Abstract It has been hypothesized by von Hippel and von Krogh (2016) that problem solving often occurs via the simultaneous recognition of both a need and a responsive solution – without prior formulation of a problem being required.   In this paper, we conduct a first test of the von Hippel and von Krogh hypothesis via a laboratory experiment. We find our subjects do frequently engage in need-solution pair problem solving even when not requested to, and that a high fraction of the solutions they report follow the need-solution pair pattern. In Condition 1 in the experiment where no problem or solving activity was suggested, 73% of the solutions were of the need-solution pair problem-solving pattern; in the progressively tighter Conditions 2 (broad solving task specified) and 3 (narrow solving task specified), the frequency of NSPs totaled 56% and 37% respectively: the hypothesis is confirmed. We also find that both the novelty and creativity of solutions discovered via need-solution pair recognition are significantly higher than solutions discovered via the traditionally assumed need-first pattern, and that their general value and utility are as good or better. On this basis, we suggest that need-solution pair problem solving is likely to be a phenomenon of high practical value as well as of high theoretical interest.

Gambardella, Alfonso, Christina Raasch, and Eric von Hippel (2016) “The user innovation paradigm: impacts on markets and welfare” Management Science

Abstract:   Innovation has traditionally been seen as the province of producers. However, theoretical and empirical research now shows that individual users – consumers – are also a major and increasingly important source of new product and service designs. In this paper, we build a microeconomic model of a market that incorporates demand-side innovation and competition. We explain the conditions under which firms find it beneficial to invest in supporting and harvesting users’ innovations, and show that social welfare rises when firms utilize this source of innovation. Overall, our results explain when and how the proliferation of innovating users leads to a superior division of innovative labor involving complementary investments by users and producers, both benefitting producers and increasing social welfare.

 Stock, Ruth Maria, Eric von Hippel, and Lennart Schnarr (2016) “Impacts of Personality Traits on User Innovation Success.” Research Policy

National surveys document that from 1.5 percent to over 6 percent of individuals in six countries develop new or modified products for their own use. This is in some ways an im- pressive figure, representing tens of millions of free innovators in just those six countries. But another way to look at it is that 94–98 percent of individuals in those countries do not innovate, or perhaps try to innovate but fail. Two questions then arise: Are there differences between individuals who successfully carry out innovation projects in the household sector and those who do not? And, if there are differences, can we do anything to increase the amount of successful free innovation?

In this paper, my colleagues and I identify personality traits significantly associated with successful free innovation in the household sector. Based on our findings, we suggest two possible ways to increase the amount of successful free innovation.