When business executives and economists think about whether developing an innovation will be worthwhile, they tend to focus on the economic value of the outcome of the innovation process. However, the authors argue, that standard cost-benefit assessment is seriously incomplete when applied to individual innovators. These individuals can gain significant benefits from participation in a development process as well as — or even instead of — benefits from using or selling the innovation created. When innovation project sponsors can offer volunteer innovators such benefits, the net cost of those innovation projects can be much lower.
The authors define “innovation process benefits” as all those benefits that innovators will get if they directly participate in the innovation development process — and will not get if somebody just hands them the solution to an innovation challenge. Important examples of innovation process benefits include enjoyment and learning obtained from participation in the project, as well as reputational gains obtained from being known as having made high-quality contributions. Innovation process benefits are distinct from benefits associated with using or selling the innovation created. They are only available to participants in the development process.
Together with other researchers, one of the authors studied the range of motivations experienced by consumer- innovators — individuals creating or modifying consumer products to better fit their personal needs. Both a study of Finnish consumer-innovators and a study of consumer-innovators in whitewater kayaking found that motivations for these innovators included not only a desire to use or sell their innovations but also enjoyment and learning gained from the innovation process, as well as a desire to help others.
The authors note that designing innovation projects with individual volunteers’ innovation process benefits in mind can amplify total investment in R&D and innovation in societies by making it attractive for some consumers to devote some fraction of their eisure time to that purpose. The net effect is to make innovation cheaper from the societal perspective and also from the perspective of an innovation project sponsor.