8 10, 2014

[Participate!] HYVE Engineering Contest (Clutches / Combustion Engines)

By | 2018-06-14T06:33:15+00:00 Oktober 8th, 2014|Allgemein|


Munich based open innovation specialist HYVE has launched a new contest, this time all about clutches and combustion engines. The specific question is:

An internal combustion engine (ICE) can be started by an electric machine. This procedure is determined as a tow-start and is used in many forms in today’s powertrains. The coordination of e-machine, clutch and ICE is challenging. A quick and smooth start has to be ensured.

With the Engineering Contest, HYVE wants to probe the causes and generate new, innovative ideas for clutch systems connecting electrical machines and ICE. How can clutch systems be designed to guarantee a smooth interplay between electric machine and internal combustion engine over a defined lifetime?

Everybody who has ideas to solve this challenge is invited to submit them at www.engineering-contest.com and take a chance to win great prizes. Deadline is November 26th!

Good luck and happy engineering!

15 09, 2014

[Participate!] „Open Education Lab“ Launched by U of Innsbruck, Invites You to Participate

By | 2018-06-14T06:33:25+00:00 September 15th, 2014|Allgemein|

Open Education Lab” is a discussion platform designed within the scope of an academic project by Prof. Johann Füller at the University of Innsbruck, investigating novel approaches and concepts in the field of open education in an open-minded way. The research study discusses common questions about open education, mainly based on a broad analysis of the concept of massive open online courses (MOOCs). Furthermore, the project aims to gain new insights on the development of innovative educational developments also within the industrial sector.

Together with his team, Prof. Füller performed a broad market research and installed the discussion platform to gather opinions from Key Opinion Leaders in the field concerning three main topics (the following content is quoted from the discussion platform www.openeducationlab.at). If you are interested in discussing with other experts please write an email to info@openeducationlab.at and you will get your personal account information.


1. MOOCS – Hype or stable trend? Technologies & Development


Bild Topic1MOOCs comprise the possibility to reach learners all around the globe. Users can learn „www“ – wherever, whenever and whatever, the spectrum of courses offered is immense. Topics ranging from the natural sciences over managing trainings to yoga classes are thought for free. However, high quality education might not always be ensured. We would like to propose potential weaknesses of instantaneously offered MOOCs and likely challenges for the successful implementation of MOOCs in the industrial educational landscape.
Informal Learning
Every strength comes with a weakness! Although MOOCs provide the user with freedom of choice regarding subject, schedule and quantity of content, in order to successfully complete a course a high degree of self-organization, self-discipline and time management is demanded from the learner. High drop-put rates are the result.


Technical Qualification
In order to produce a MOOC, certain technical qualifications need to be mastered by the producing institution and the lecturing speaker. Although general guidelines can be found on the web, a control for quality is rarely offered. Technical training and mediation of media competence are strongly recommendable.

Active engagement in the community is observed only in 10% of users. Interactivity, social integration, discussions and self-presentation are characteristics of traditional learning forms which are not adequately transferred to the MOOC landscape yet. However, peer-to-peer mentoring and collective thinking might produce the most creative results and intellectual approaches.

Learners might be interested in an official certification of qualification they obtained by completing courses. Accreditation from an acknowledged educational institution therefore represents a reasonable demand towards MOOC providers. Thus, cooperation with universities, (vocational) schools and other accreditation institutes should be of high interest also for MOOC suppliers in the industrial sector.

Mentoring and Guidance
Be it virtual or in-person: most learners appreciate some form of guidance during their educational training. MOOC providers rarely offer such support. One could imagine that the former traditional teacher might take the part of a mentor or content guide. Also guidance in form of an artificially intelligent coach might constitute an alternative. The community, on the other hand, could constitute a place for consultancy and support.

In the traditional sense, openness with regard to education comprises characteristics such as open access to the content, open source software for the usage of the content, open educational resources (textbooks, applications, journals,…), open learning (flexibility, individualization) and open data (re-using, sharing). Are MOOCs truly as “open” as they are claimed to be?

Blended Learning
Mere online learning might not constitute the exclusive solution for most efficient and long-lasting learning success. The combination with an offline component, for example in form of presence seminars, discussion groups, group-work or hands-on training might help the learner to transfer the learned knowledge to “the real world”. Problem-solving tasks, training setups and working groups might therefore constitute essential tools in addition to the online presented content for the manifestation of the MOOC concept for education also within industry setting. Especially technical professions might benefit from such a blended learning form that combines online and offline elements.


2. MOOCs’ Strengths and Weaknesses: Challenges for the successful implementation in an educational institution


The Gartner Hype Cycle

The Gartner Hype Cycle


Examining the development of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) on the hype cycle (A), we might derive that MOOCs stand at the through of their hype development. Consequently, in the very near future, a stable trend will likely dissociate from the unsteady hype. Similarly, the steady increase in user numbers of the main MOOC providers (B) suggests that the status quo is settling on the top of the hill, with user numbers ranging up to 10 million.

Technological Trends

Various technological trends and developments will strongly influence teaching, learning and the ways of communication between learners and educators. The inspection of these technologies on the hype cycle (C) allows for the differentiation between rather new and highly modifiable from steadily established tools. For the purpose of this study, we are interested which technological trends will permanently be incorporated in educational processes.


3. MOOCs spreading over the Educational Landscape – Does the dual education system have a need for MOOCs?


The (German) Education System - a classification

The (German) Education System – a classification

Within the scope of our study we were interested to examine existing MOOC providers for their target groups within the educational landscape in Germany. Therefore we categorized the following educational sectors (A):

1) secondary schools until 9th grade

2) secondary schools until 13th grade

3) Universities and technical colleges

4) Dual education system (vocational training schools)

5) Advanced training
Additional non-educational groups included:

6) Business companies

7) Socially and globally disadvantaged groups


Immense supply for universities – lack of offerings for the dual education system?
By categorizing the main existing MOOC providers into the described sectors and groups (B), we observed a plethora of suppliers serving the target groups of universities (60% of the analyzed providers, C) and also advanced training in general (45% of the analyzed providers, C). However, vocational training school and the secondary educational system seem not to constitute a significant target group for MOOC providers (only 5% of the analyzed providers, C).


Want to share your thoughts on the (open) future of education and learning? Hope to see you at www.openeducationlab.at!

11 07, 2014

Recommended Read: Blog by Professor Hans-Gerd Servatius

By | 2018-06-14T06:33:33+00:00 Juli 11th, 2014|Allgemein|

competivation_blogFor anybody interested in deeper insights into innovation management, leadership for innovation and more, there is now an additional source available. My colleague and partner at Competivation, Professor Hand-Gerd Servatius has started to share some of his knowledge based on over thirty years of professional consulting experience.

His posts are in German language but if you are able to read German (or use google translator), you can find a lot of quality information over at: http://www.competivation.de/blog

5 07, 2013

By | 2018-06-14T06:47:05+00:00 Juli 5th, 2013|Allgemein|

  • Know about any great case, event or interesting developtment related to Open Innovation, Mass Customization or 3D Printing? Tell us about it!

  • Should be Empty:


21 05, 2013

Open Innovation Market Study 2013

By | 2018-06-14T06:47:23+00:00 Mai 21st, 2013|Allgemein|

OIA_2013Fresh from the press! For the second time, our open innovation study explores that market of open innovation accelerators (OIA), organizations that help their clients to include external experts in all stages of an innovation project.

Open innovation today has become a core tool in innovation management. But which is the right method for open innovation? Which are the criteria to plan an open innovation project? Which intermediary or service provider has specific knowledge and expertise in, e.g., crowdsourcing, the lead user method, Netnography, idea contests, technology scouting, or broadcast search? This totally updated, 2013 edition report provides a comprehensive analysis of the providers and platforms for open innovation.

We take a detailed look on the methods, cost, project and community structures, and market size. Our purpose is to support strategic decisions when planning an open innovation venture. Managers will gain an overview of the intermediaries available for open innovation and will get advice how to identify partners for their project.

We invited more than 160 intermediaries to join our survey investigating
the OIA’s business model and environment, productivity, services offered, project specifics, and characteristics of their participant pool. In addition, we asked about estimates for the development of the open innovation market. Besides a lot of highly interresting findings about the market for open innovation in general and the intermediary’s role in it, we were also able to compile 188 detailed accelerator profiles.

In the following weeks, we will post a series of articles with selected findings from the market study!

The study is available via Lulu.com in both a paperback and an ebook version.

A preview can be found here.

16 10, 2012

Tweet Timeline

By | 2012-10-16T07:40:33+00:00 Oktober 16th, 2012|Allgemein|

While I am only contributing marginally to the 340 million tweets sent every
day, I use Twitter (@masscustom) as the core medium to share interesting
observations, new case studies, examples, or announce upcoming event. This
Tweet Timeline lets you skim through all my tweets from the past years (and
the most recent, too)! I hope it helps to spark some creative ideas.

12 10, 2012


By | 2012-10-12T02:47:50+00:00 Oktober 12th, 2012|Allgemein|

27 08, 2012

Consulting, Speaking and Executive Education about Innovation Management, Strategy Roadmapping and More

By | 2018-06-14T06:54:20+00:00 August 27th, 2012|Allgemein|

I frequently receive requests by companies for innovation counseling and consulting on open innovation, mass customizuation, and technology management.  While we do not perform any consulting for individual companies with our RWTH-TIM institute, there are a number of opportunities for consulting.

Competivation_banner_2013_wTo meet the needs of industry, together with an experienced executive consultant, Prof. Hans-Gerd Servatius,  we have founded Competivation Consulting, a dynamic innovation and strategy management consulting company from innovators for innovators. 

Combining decades of innovation research, teaching and consulting, COMPETIVATION’s team of experts supports your company with

  • Management consulting in innovation and technologymanagement,
  • Strategy and innovation workshops,
  • Strategic and technology roadmapping,
  • Trend analysis and strategic foresight,
  • Technology, market and benchmarking analysis,
  • Implementation counseling,
  • Networking with intermediaries and IT-partners,
  • Executive education programs and corporate speaking

Special areas of expertise are open innovation, customer co-creation, mass customization, but also the development of comprehensive strategies for innovation and technology managememt.

GermanWhile our core market is the DACH region (Germany, Austria, and
Switzerland), we are also open for assignments beyond these ountries. You will find more informationen on Competivation and our service portfolio at www.competivation.de (in German language only!)

26 07, 2012

Christian Gülpen (Editor in Chief)

By | 2018-06-14T06:54:44+00:00 Juli 26th, 2012|Allgemein|


Christian Gülpen

Editor in Chief, Producer
Mass Customization & Open Innovation News

Public Relations & Marketing
RWTH Aachen University
Technology & Innovation Management Group

RWTH Aachen University
Technology and Innovation Management Group
Kackertstraße 7, 52072 Aachen, Germany

Direct Contact
Phone: +49-(0)241 80 96660
Fax: +49 (0)241-80-92367

Christian Gülpen  Profil von Christian Gülpen auf LinkedIn anzeigen

Christian Gülpen is the editor-in-chief of this blog. Together with Prof. Frank T. Piller he constantly monitors the mass customization and open innovation landscape to find the latest news, promising trends, and most interesting research to report back to you.

Christian has a background in managing executive education programs and is responsible for public relations and marketing of RWTH Aachen University’s Technology and Innovation Management Group.

Christian is especially interested in networking with and talking scholars, professionals and entrepreneurs from innovative companies and institutions – or those who are looking for professional coaching and support to become state-of-the-art innovators!

25 03, 2012

FAQ: Frequently Asked Questions on Mass Customization and Customer Co-Creation

By | 2018-06-14T07:13:31+00:00 März 25th, 2012|Allgemein|

I am often asked about my opinions on and definitions of the various aspects of mass customization, customer co-creation and their practical aplications. On this page I provide an evolving list of answers to some previously asked questions. Journalists and students, please read these Q&A first before sending me an e-mail with a request for an expert interview.  


Key terms defined


How do you define mass customization, open innovation, anc co-creation? Here is an extra page with my definitions!


Questions on Mass Customization


Questions on Customer Co-Creation



Answers on Mass Customization


Q: What is mass customization and what is personification? Could you provide short definitions for the concepts?

A: In short, mass customization means to profit from the fact that all people are different. Many managers regard heterogeneity of demand as a threat, as a challenge to overcome. I see it, however, as an extraordinary profit opportunity. If you set up the right processes and product architectures, you can serve your customers individually and efficiently at the same time. Exactly this is the essence of mass customization.

The term was first popularized by Joseph Pine, who defined it in his 1993 book as “developing, producing, marketing and delivering affordable goods and services with enough variety and customization that nearly everyone finds exactly what they want.”  In other words, the goal is to provide customers what they want when they want it. 

Similarly, Bruce Kasanoff, a keynote speaker at the MCPC 2009 conference and the author of of „Making it Personal“ (2002), defines personalization „After years of trying to simplify personalization, I finally got it down to two words, which are included in my comments: Personal = Smarter. The more you customize, the smarter you get. The smarter you  get, the more formidable competitor you become. It really is that simple. Doing it, of course, takes a lot of work.“

So we can say that personalization is the result and mass customization the process of achieving it. The focus of mass customization is at realizing a stream of individual products and services for individual customers with high efficiency, „mass production efficiency“, as Prof. Mitchell Tseng called it. To reach this objective, a company has to work along three different basic capabilities of mass customization (Here is an extra page with more definitions!). 

Q: Can you talk about your background here? Why you became involved with mass customization and how long ago?

A: I first realized the mass customization phenomenon by reading Joe Pine’s book as a graduate student, working on a paper for my master’s degree in management (in 1993). One year later, I was in New York City, visiting one of the first Levi’s stores selling its first version of mass customized jeans. There I thought, „Hey, they are doing it really“ and was hooked by the concept. When I continued my education with a Ph.D. in Operations Management, I decided to study mass customization from a management perspective in more detail. After placing the first article on it in the German edition of the Harvard Business review (1996), I also got some great feedback from managers on the topic. Since then, I am continuously working on this topic.

Q: Could you explain broadly where mass customization is right now in terms of its promise? Is this still in our future? Do people still want this?

A: The objective of mass customization, serving different customers differently and exactly according to their needs, can be implemented in many ways. BMW customers can use an online toolkit to design the roof of a Mini Cooper with their very own graphics or picture, which is then reproduced with an advanced digital printing system on a special foil. The toolkit has enabled BMW to tap into the custom after-sales market, which was previously owned by niche companies. In addition, Mini Cooper customers can also choose from among hundreds of options for many of the car’s components, as BWM is able to manufacture all cars on-demand according to each buyer’s individual order.

But also consider Pandora.com. The company relieves people of having to channel surf through radio stations to find the music they like. Customers submit an initial set of their preferred songs, and from that information Pandora identifies a broader set of music that fits their preference profile and then broadcasts those songs as a custom radio channel. As of December 2008, Pandora.com had 21.5 million listeners who created 361 million radio stations and played every day 61 million songs from 60,000 artists. 

Also this is mass customization, but in a very different way as at BMW. Both companies have turned customers’ heterogeneous needs into an opportunity to create value, rather than a problem to be minimized, challenging the “one size fits all” assumption of traditional mass production. To reap the benefits of mass customization, though, managers need to think of it not as a stand-alone business strategy for replacing production and distribution processes but as a set of organizational capabilities that can enrich the portfolio of capabilities of their organizations.

So while there may be little mass customization in the extreme way of producing a physical objective for anyone in lot size of one, there is a lot of mass customization thinking in many business models. In a recent article in „MIT Sloan Management Review“ (Spring 2009), my co-authors Fabrizio Salvador and Pablo Martin de Holan and I describe mass customization a strategic mechanism that is applicable to most businesses, provided that it is appropriately understood and deployed. The key is to view it basically as a process for aligning an organization with its customers’ needs. That is, mass customization is not about achieving some idealized state in which a company knows exactly what its customers want and can manufacture specific, individualized goods to satisfy those demands — all at mass-production costs. Rather, it is about moving towards these goals by developing a set of organizational capabilities that will, over time, supplement and enrich an existing business.


Q: Can you explain further what these capabilities are that a company needs to mass customize?

A: Sure! Research by my colleagues and my own group has identified three common capabilities that will determine the fundamental ability of a company to mass customize its offerings

(1) Solution Space Development  A mass customizer must first identify the idiosyncratic needs of its customers, specifically, the product attributes along which customer needs diverge the most. (This is in stark contrast to a mass producer, which must focus on identifying central tendencies so that it can target those needs with a limited number of standard products.) Once that information is known and understood, a business can define its “solution space,” clearly delineating what it will offer — and what it will not.

(2) Robust Process Design  Next, a mass customizer needs to ensure that an increased variability in customers’ requirements will not significantly impair the firm’s operations and supply chain.  This can be achieved through robust process design — the capability to reuse or recombine existing organizational and value-chain resources — to deliver customized solutions with near mass-production efficiency and reliability

(3) Choice Navigation  Lastly, a mass customizer must support customers in identifying their own problems and solutions while minimizing complexity and the burden of choice.  It is important to remember that, when a customer is exposed to myriad choices, the cost of evaluating those options can easily outweigh the additional benefit from having so many alternatives. The resulting syndrome has been called the “paradox of choice,” in which too many options can actually reduce customer value instead of increasing it.  In such situations, customers might postpone their buying decisions and, worse, classify the vendor as difficult and undesirable. To avoid that, a company can provide choice navigation to simplify the ways in which people explore its offerings

Q: How does mass customization change the traditional concept of consumption?

A: In the past, most companies regarded their customers as passive consumers or users of products and services imagined, developed, designed, and provided by the company. With mass customization, we turn the view to more active consumers who also are part of a co-design process that enables them to get a product that really meats their individual preferences. From plenty of research, we also know that in general, consumers appreciate and enjoy this more active role: Much of the additional benefit of a mass customization offering comes as much from the sheer act of co-creating as from the resulting outcome, the custom product, itself.

One has to acknowledge, however, that mass customization always is a weak or „light“ form of customer co-creation. Different to other concepts like user idea contests or users engaging in open source development communities, in mass customization, all customer interaction is in an operational form .. one that is scalable, easy to perform, and totally controlled by the company.  

Mass customization is about configuring a product to one’s individual need, it is not about inventing it. It only allows for what has been set by the company it’s the solution space. This constraint, however, enable the immediate and efficient manufacturing of the good, making it available for more or less „instant“ consumption. In other forms of user innovation and co-creation, users can imagine many more things — but often it will take a long time until they can access these products in reality.


Q: What is driving the recent interest in Mass Customization? Why is so much happening right now?

A: Mass customization today is driven by companies funded by young entrepreneurs who are utilizing three recent trends:

(1) Opening a MC company is cheaper than ever. Thanks to web-services and better standards, creating a compelling frontend to sell customized goods is easy and cheap. The same refers to manufacturing, where in some industries generic suppliers came up that allows one to outsource custom manufacturing more easily.

(2) Consumers are finally ready for it. I believe it took 10 years of consumer education on the net so that MANY of them feel confident to not just shop standard products from a catalog, but also co-create. Also, today’s 25-35’s – a core group of people buying custom goods – are trained by the interactive solutions of social networking, but also co- creation in computer games. This generation is the natural shopper for custom goods – and getting old enough now to have the discretionary income to buy custom goods online.

(3) Leading by examples: In Germany, MyMuesli and Spreadshirt were the two blueprints for companies that inspired many young entrepreneurs to follow. The same with Cafepress and Zazzle in the US. These companies inspired the press to write about it, consumers to purchase, and other entrepreneurs to start their company.


Q: How much of the current hype around Mass Customization is influenced by DIY and Making culture being on the rise in the mainstream culture?

A: Well, on the consumer side, these trends are not as profound in Europe compared to the US yet. But I believe that these trends inspired more entrepreneurs to create a MC offering. And with more supply, more demand. MC is a bit like „technology push“. The average consumer does not think about it, but when they see an offering for a custom product that makes sense for them they buy.

I also see a blurring line between DIY, makers, and big companies that offer customization. They all now can use the same tools, have access to very similar manufacturing technologies, and also can reach global customer bases online.  An industry where this clearly is happing  is anything that can be produced by „additive manufacturing“, or 3D printing. Here, we have platforms like Ponoko or Shapeways enabling Makers to create custom products also for the average consumer, and distribute them broadly.


Q: Is there a chance that mass customization will one be a central practice in manufacturing, as important as traditional mass production? Or will it probably just remain as a fringe or niche process?

A: In my opinion, mass customization never will overtake mass production (or better, a forecast-based production of variants made-to-stock). True mass customization will remain a niche topic. However, niches can be very profitable, and in a large market segment, big enough for several players.

One of the core success factors of German machine tool makers and machinery companies is that they focus on a specific niche market that they serves with highly customized equipment. This often makes them the world market leader in this segment.

The same, I believe, is true for custom apparel or footwear, for example. For the next decades to come, the majority of products we buy are standardized, pre-fabricated, from the shelves. And this is efficient and convenient for both consumers and manufacturers.  But for a few items about which we really care, where we have a high involvement, we choose customization. 

Q: Are there any changes you’ve seen in the promise of mass customization or how it’s realized as you’ve followed the industry?

A: Over the years, I recognized three cycles of mass customization. This first was in the 1990s when people looked on it as a production technologies, still yery much rooted in the CIM-Thinking that originally lead Alvin Toffler to deliver the first modern description of mass customization in the late 1970s.  During this time, mass customization was very much rooted in business-to-business markets. Machine tool makers like Sandvik from Scandinavia opened the first large scale mass customization businesses. 

The second wave happed with the internet revolution (starting in 1998). Finally firms could connect their flexible manufacturing technologies with customers efficiently. This cycle brought us many great examples of mass customization, but also quite some disappointments. Often, start-ups during this time just opened, as you could do it, not as customers needed it. But some great examples of mass customization survived, like NikeID (opened for the only reason as former Nike CEO Phil Knight wanted to „something in the internet“, and so they selected mass customization as this promised to cause little channel conflicts with established retailers). 

In the following years, the internet-based mass customization offerings matured, and many more followed. It was the broader development of online configurators that made mass customization happens in a larger scale. Have a look at our web-site „http://www.configurator-database.com“ for the scale and scope of configurators today.

The third wave of mass customization is happening now: It is driven by companies like Ponoko, Zazzle, Spreadshirt, Lulu, Shapeways, and many others, which offer design, manufacturing, and retail capacity to everyone. So in this third stage, people are not just customizing to fulfill their own needs, but to create (micro) niche markets and serve them efficiently. Here, I think, we are just at the beginning and will see many more application soon.

Q: Can you comment a bit more on choice navigation and configuration? What kinds of configurators exist?

A: The core drawback of most configurators today is that they are still parameter (option) based. Customers have to make their own decisions out of a list of pre-defined options. This often demands a large number of decisions and also knowledge of the user about the product. While this may be perfect in the business-to-business context where configurators originated, in consumer markets this is not always the best option. 

Here, need-based configuration often is better. This means that users have to tell something about her preferences, requirements, or expected outcomes. This input then is transferred by an algorithm into a product configuration. There is a great paper by three scholars that compared the use of a parameter versus need-based configurator for Dell (asking people what graphic card they want versus asking people what games they play). In this paper, the authors clearly find that most users prefer the need-based solution, mimicking the behavior of a good sales person (T. Randall, C. Terwiesch, and K. Ulrich, User design of customized products. Marketing Science, Marketing Science, 26 (2007) 2 (March-April): 268-280). Here, I believe, industry has to invest much more in developing better configuration systems that minimize „mass confusion“.

Q: Does crowdsourcing count as mass customization? Has crowdsourcing changed the venue?

A: The intellectual background of crowdsourcing is Harvard professor Yoachi Benkler, who has described this economic principle perfectly in his book “The Wealth of Networks” (2006) and an earlier article in 2002: Instead of either buying a product or service on the market or assigning a task within your hierarchy (to one of your employees), you ask an open network of potential contributors to provide this task. Jeff Howe’s crowdsourcing article (in Wired) coined the term and made the concept much more feasible and applicable. I found that mass customization also relates to Jeff Howe’s definition. A company places its configurator openly on the internet and then consumers can select if they take this extra effort to design a product or if they just buy a standard product. This is the open call for participation in Jeff’s definition.


Q: What are some barriers to continued mass customization implementation? Some reasons it may not be fully realized or realized as once promised?

A: In our research, we found a number of powerful inertial forces of a company on its way to mass customization. One is marketing focus. For mass producers, the focus of the marketing group is not about spotting differences; it’s about identifying and exploiting needs that are similar. Consequently, traditional marketers often lack the appropriate knowledge and tools required by a mass customizer and, when urged to add more variety to their product lines, are likely to 1) unimaginatively rely on product differentiation criteria that were successful in the past or 2) mimic differentiating attributes introduced by competitors. Either approach will likely fail to tap into unexploited customers’ heterogeneities.

Another factor of inertia relates to a firm’s design culture. With mass production, the emphasis during product development is on design uniqueness or on minimizing the variable cost of newly developed components. This leads to designs of maximal uniqueness or the use of ad hoc parts with minimal cost. With mass customization, the focus is instead on designs that have synergy with other designs, that is, designs that share parts and processes as part of the solution space.

A final factor preventing companies to move towards mass customization are constraints in the value chain. Reconfiguring a value chain that was originally conceived for volume production in order to accommodate a variable product mix can present a number of problems. An existing corporate purchasing policy, for example, can make it difficult for a division to select a new base of suppliers. Moreover, external structural constraints within supplier and distribution channels can also pose significant obstacles.

Q: How does the future of mass customization look like? Which themes will be emphasized in the future in both practice and research?

A: One field that really is getting more attention in the context of mass customization is sustainability. Mass customization offers large promises to reduce the waste in an industrial system, waste of overstocks, waste of unwanted products, waste of products people litter because of a lack of personal attachment. But at the other hand, mass customization also may use more resources to build a custom product. There is much research needed to really calculate the pros and cons of mass customization for sustainability.

Another field is the connection of mass customization and co-creation or user innovation. For many companies, mass customization is like the vehicle to entry a close relationship with their customers, which is then used for other purposes as well. This connection is one that we will investigate more closely in our community of MC researchers in the future.

Q: Are there alternatives to mass customization in order to serve customers in „long tail markets“? 

A: Absolutely! I recently see better matching-systems for standard products as a strong alternative to mass customization. Within an assortment (of pre-fabricated products), customer specific choices/options are recommended. Consider My Virtual Model (mvm.com), a matching service for fashion retailers and the appliance industry. MVM enables consumers, either on its own site or on the sites of its clients, to build themselves in a virtual model (an avatar), by selecting different body types, hair styles, face characteristics, etc. Consumers also type in their basic measurements so that the virtual model represents their body measurement. In addition, customers can specify what kind of “fit” they prefer (loose, comfort, tight, etc.) so that the recommendations provided do not only fit the customer in terms of sizes and appearance, but also in terms of how they do feel inside the garment. 

When MVM started offering virtual avatars in 1999, they looked more like a curious oddity. But now their avatars are used by more than 12 millions individual users. Companies such as Adidas, Best Buy, Levis, Sears and H&M are using these virtual models to generate business and stronger ties to their customers, lured by the increase in such metrics as average order value and conversion. 

Another great example is Zafu.com. Finding the right size of a pair of jeans is a challenge for many women. The answer of mass customization is taking a customer’s measurements and making a custom pair of jeans for her. Zafu offers a different approach. From the customer perspective, the experience starts similarly. Zafu asks women shoppers eleven questions about how they prefer jeans to sit on their hips or waist to create a body profile. In addition, they ask for some basic body measurements. 

But instead of using this information to create a custom cut, they match it with a large database of proprietary fitting information about the jeans of more than 30 major brands. This database contains hundreds of styles, from broadly marketed Gap to pricey designer labels. The consumer then gets a list of ranked results, linked with the brand’s website to purchase. 

Zafu’s personalization service is an alternative model to conventional mass customization. It may not have the inventory advantages and value prepositions of mass customization, but is much easier to implement and is a much faster scalable system. For consumers, such a matching service also implies less waiting time as well as no price premiums associated with custom products. 

But both models supplement each other: For most consumers, a better matching service like MVM or Zafu will provide sufficient value. For others, however, the ultimate product still will be the truly custom jean––providing not only perfect fit, but also the hedonistic satisfaction connected with a custom product. Zafu is well positioned to profit from this trend. The company is owned by Archtetype, a major enabler of true mass customization for the clothing industry. Thus, they easily can refer a customer finding no fitting piece in Zafu’s database of the existing assortment of standard products to the custom clothing offerings. 

I predict that we will see many more examples of these matching services as they offer companies to profit better from what they already have: vast assortments of existing goods. The result may be a new understanding of mass customization, beyond its roots in on-demand manufacturing and product design. In the end, it is the customer who drives the business. And customers are not differentiating between personalized, customized, or standardized offerings. I believe that we will need a broader understanding of mass customization. And I am excited to work on this challenge in the coming years.


Q: Any other trends? What is the next in mass customization and crowdsourcing?

A: A very interesting trend is something I called „user manufacturing“. Consider emachineshop.com. They are like a Kinko for machinery. You download a very easy to operate free CAD software. Then you can design what you want, upload 3D designs from the Internet, and then you can place the design on a huge park of machines – drilling, laser lathes, CNC cutters, whatever you need. You can select materials and you push a button and start a remote production process. Two days later, your design arrives at your home. So you have an entire machine park without any of the transaction costs. 

It is really incredible what you can do there as a consumer. My favorite example is IKEA. You find many IKEA furniture designs today reverse-engineered by users somewhere on the Internet. Say, you find a specific table you like, but you want a modification. Normally there is no way to get your own design from IKEA. But now you just download the 3D design of this table from the internet, you make the modifications, upload it to emachineshop or a similar provider, place the order, and you get your design. This is possible today, and the premium is less than one would expect – as you as the consumer do all the design work. 

Q: When I think this through, do we really need companies any longer?

A: Yes, we still need them as most consumers don’t care about most of the products so that they would do this effort. For most things we are satisfied with the standard model. .But some products where we care or have a specific need, we will get involved. We still need the traditional model so I don’t think that the high variety production we have today will ever die but with this crowdsourcing model we have an additional model that will be utilized in the domains where users care about it.

Q: How does this relate to your earlier work with mass customization? It appears that this way of users manufacturing their own goods is a new level of mass customization.

A: Absolutely! In the beginning, MC was very much production driven. Then, it was connected with the internet. Today, we have a third generation of mass customization companies, connecting mass customization with online communities. Consider Spreadshirt, Zazzle, or CafePress. These are companies that allow you to customize goods, but you can order those not just for you, but you can sell your creations to others. So these companies have combined the eBay model of very easily selling stuff over the internet with the customization model. 

You can very easily use the infrastructure of these companies to get your ideas into reality and even make money with this. Consider Spreadshirt. They have like 250,000 shop and sell like 100,000 products a month. So most shops don’t sell any products in a month. But no one cares, as this is not connected to any physical inventory or cost. Manufacturing is centralized, and what they do is produced on demand. 

Q: Could you explain the background of MCP conference series? It seems to be the major event in the MCP world.

A: The MCPC conference series started out as a bi-annual conference devoted to Mass Customization & Personalization. The content has broadened in recent years, including also open innovation, user co-creation and other strategies of customer-driven value creation. But mass customization is still the main trend that drives the success of the MCPC conferences, bringing together hundreds of the world’s most remarkable people in the field. Previous conference took place n Hong Kong, Munich, and Boston.

Q: What could be the impact of mass customization for developing countries such as Brazil, China, or India? Are we better or less prepared to seize its benefits?

A: This is an interesting question, and I have no ready answer on it. Nor do I know any particular research that would have answered this questions. So here are just a few ideas:

(a) Many developing countries still have a great tradition of craft goods, which also are being used by many more people. Craft goods often are customized. Mass customization in a way can be seen as an industrialized version of the craft model — hence making the mental shift for consumers less difficult compared to countries where users only use „mass produced“.

(b) Also, developing countries in general have a much broader manufacturing base of flexible workshops and small scale manufacturers. Those don’t have to learn the skills to become mass customizers compared to large-scale mass producers. I see a good model for brokers and intermediaries connecting these local manufactures with the internet and consumers and using them as efficient and flexible manufacturing outlets for mass customization.

In Germany or the USA, it has been proven IMPOSSIBLE to find any manufacturer capable to produce mass customized fashion items, footwear, accessories, etc. All western companies seeking for these kind of manufacturers ended up in developing countries like North Africa, China, India, or Eastern Europe (Romania etc.).

(c) On the negative side, however, I feel that for many consumers in developing countries with paying power, Western brands and standards are the products to get. There may be less a kind of appreciation of customization as a status symbol as it is in industrialized companies. But here I may be wrong — I just don’t know and have no data of this. This is a great opportunity for further research.

Q: What is your title as you’d like it to appear in the article?

A: Short: Frank Piller, Professor of Management at RWTH Aachen University
Long: I am a professor of management and head of the innovation management group at RWTH Aachen University, Germany’s leading institute of technology. I am also a co-founder and a co-director of the MIT Smart Customization Group, a research group at MIT, Cambridge, MA. 


Answers on Customer Co-Creation

Q: Is open innovation a business imperative yet? What would happen if companies continue to remain closed and locked into the traditional way of generating ideas and products without external collaboration at the society level?

A: Well, I would say truly closed innovation is not possible anyway. All innovation built on existing knowledge and some form of networking. But the term open innovation suggests that a company build dedicated practices to make the connection with the best external knowledge for a given innovation task better and more efficient. So for me, open innovation is not a business imperative, but a set of practices and organizational capabilities to connect with a firm’s periphery for innovation.

Q: Customers are often considered the source of external input for innovation. But the source of bright ideas – as proved by many idea contests, come from the „common man“. How can company identify and engage the „common man“?

A: Here we have to make an important distinction. Research, originating by the path-breaking work by Eric von Hippel at the MIT has shown that many commercially important products or processes are initially thought of by innovative users rather than by manufactures. Especially when markets are fast-paced or turbulent, so called lead users face specific needs ahead of the general market participants. Lead users are characterized as users who (1) face needs that will become general in a marketplace much earlier before the bulk of that marketplace encounters them; and (2) are positioned to benefit significantly by obtaining a solution for those needs. 

But lead users are NO average customers or users. There are only very few lead users. Average customers are in general neither innovative nor do they want to enage in innovation. Hence, it is the task of a company to identify these lead users by specific search and screening methods. There is not enough space here to describe these methods, but they are very well documented (look at Eric von Hippel’s MIT homepage for some examples).

Q: In a way co-creation can be defined as outsourcing idea generation to the society. What is your exact definition of this concept? And what is the main benefit for companies?

A: Customer co- creation has been defined as an active, creative and social process, based on collaboration between producers (retailers) and customers (users) (Piller and Ihl 2009). Customers are actively involved and take part in the design of new products or services. Their co-creation activities are performed in an act of company-to-customer interaction which is facilitated by the company. The objective is to utilize the information and capabilities of customers and users for the innovation process. 

The main benefit is to enlarge the base of information about needs, applications, and solution technologies that resides in the domain of the customers and users of a product or service. Examples for methods to achieve this objective include user idea contests, consumer opinion platforms, toolkits for user innovation, mass customization toolkits, and communities for customer co-creation.


Q: Being open about problems are not yet a norm in the market place, where companies are conversing predominantly about what they know, more than what they do not know. What are your comments?

A: God question! This indeed is one of the largest challenges we see in the field today. Many companies know about the tools or methods to co- create that I named in the previous as answer. But they are not ready to internally exploit the knowledge generate with their customers and users. Here I believe we still need plenty of change management to change this mindset you mention! 

This is a field where I believe we also need more research. Firms need more information and better guidance on how to assess whether their organization and branch is suited for customer co-creation. This information is crucial in order to build specific competences that aid firms in identifying opportunities and ultimately in using the right method. Managers need a clear picture of their own organizational settings and capabilities before being able to answer important questions during the implementation of one’s own customer integration initiative. This could include answers to questions like how do innovation projects have to be reorganized, which kinds of projects are suited for customer integration and how do the internal development processes have to be adjusted in order to allow optimal customer integration.


Q: The internal readiness of companies – such as having a co-creation team/department, methodology, etc – is often lacking in companies that spend huge sums on co-creation project, which are mostly managed by corporate communication departments or marketing departments. Do you advocate the formation of a multi-disciplined co-creation team that can do the job of creating, running co-creation projects? Is it not an exclusive, specialized professional/managerial skill – like branding, marketing, finance – by itself?

A: Yes, you already provided the answer by yourself. The problem, however, is that there are still very few companies that have such a co-creation team in place, many even don’t have one functional manager taking care of the initiative. But this will change, and I that the the first organizations are building exactly these interdisciplinary teams you are talking about.

Q: What is the link between the success of a co-creation project and the performance of the base product or initiative? 

A: To answer this interesting question, we only have anecdotal evidence that co-creation provides value. But large scale quantitative research is lacking. However, I know that several researchers are just in the progress of conducting this research, and so I hope that in a few years or so, we will get a better answer on the performance effects of co-creation. But I personally have seen many companies profiting from co-creation, if it is executed correctly and the results are used internally in the right way.


25 03, 2012

Requests for Expert Interviews for Study Projects or Thesis Surveys etc.

By | 2012-03-25T13:57:40+00:00 März 25th, 2012|Allgemein|

I am quite open to participate in expert interviews as a part of your thesis or research project. However, as I get many of these requests, please read the following points first:

  1. When requesting an interview, please tell me who you are, where and what you study, what is the exact subject of your research, and who is your supervisor.
  2. Also, it is very helpful to get your interview guideline and the questions you want to ask in your interview in advance.
  3.  I demand that you have read the relevant basic literature first!  I can not do your job of a literature review – but I am happy to refer you to special papers on dedicated topics that you could not find something about during your own literature analysis.
  4. I rather prefer to answer specific questions and not very general ones. So „what is your definition of open innovation“ or „how do you define mass customization“ are NO GOOD questions.
  5. No, I do not have any data on the size (revenue, growth) of the market for mass customization.
  6. Always check the FAQ section of this website first !!!!
  7. Allow 2-3 weeks to schedule an interview, as I travel a lot and have a very busy agenda.

To schedule an interview, write me after you checked all the previous points, and I will follow up.


20 03, 2012

Tweet Timeline ALT

By | 2018-06-14T07:13:37+00:00 März 20th, 2012|Allgemein|

While I am only contributing marginally to the 340 million tweets sent every
day, I use Twitter (@masscustom) as the core medium to share interesting
observations, new case studies, examples, or announce upcoming event. This
Tweet Timeline lets you skim through all my tweets from the past years (and
the most recent, too)! I hope it helps to spark some creative ideas.

loading tweets

    17 02, 2012

    testpage mcpcproceedings

    By | 2018-06-14T07:13:58+00:00 Februar 17th, 2012|Allgemein|


    Did you miss the MCPC 2011 conference? It was a terrific event, and we really got great feedback and comments on the conference.  Check here for some conference pictures!

    Richard Henderson at UC Berkeley has been very helpful in creating the best conference documentation we ever had! On a special conference website, the full conference program  is  available for your review. Additionally it holds the full conference proceedings as well:

    • 81 full text articles on case studies and latest research on mass customization and open innovation (download via secured website)
    • 124 slide sets of the presentations given at the conference (download via secured website)
    • 28 full videos of all presentations and keynotes given during the business seminar (streaming via secured website)

    To access this rich source of information (I estimate that this are 2500+ slides, 1000+ pages of papers, and 15+ hours of video), either use the access code you got as a conference participant, or purchase* the full text proceedings:

    Bridging Mass Customization & Open Innovation. Proceedings of the MCPC 2011 Conference — including an access code to all presentations, papers, and videos. Edited by Henry Chesbrough and Frank Piller. Published by Lulu, Inc. (Raleigh, NC), 2012.

    =>  Paperback version: ISBN: 978-1-4716-3023-1 (ca. 5 day delivery time)

    =>  eBook version: ISBN: 978-1-4716-3086-6 (instant download)

    Featured material includes the following Keynotes and Business Seminars as well as a multitude of sessions about specific niches. For detailed information about presentations and speakers please refer to the conference proceedings flyer!

    MCPC 2011 Conference Keynotes
    MCPC2011 Opening Keynotes 
    • Henry Chesbrough, Professor, UC Berkeley: Open Service Innovation (slides + video available)
    • Jeff Beaver, Co-founder and Chief Product Officer, and Bobby Beaver, Co-founder and Chief Technical Officer, Zazzle: The Future of Mass Customization (slides + video)

    What is the State of the Art of Research & Practice in Mass Customization & Open Innovation?

    Two talks providing a review of these fields to create a common understanding of the latest research and insights for practice. 

    • Joel West, KGI: Profiting from External Innovation: A Review of Research on Open Innovation (slides)
    • Frank Piller, RWTH/MIT & Fabrizio Salvador, IE Business School: A Matter of Balance – Building the Successful Mass Customization Enterprise (slides)

    Finding the Next Opportunities in Mass Customization

    Learn from B. Joseph Pine’s latest thoughts on the Virtual Multiverse and how it creates the next generation of experiences and customization, followed by a talk by an entrepreneur who puts Joe’s thoughts into real life.

    • B. Joseph Pine, Strategic Horizons: The Multiverse: Finding the Next Opportunities in Mass Customization (slides)
    • André Wolper, Founder and CEO, embodee: Visualization as an Enabler of Mass Customization: An Apparel story (slides)

    Setting an Agenda for Research & Innovation

    Discuss with your fellow participants your insights from the MCPC 2011 and close the conference with three forward-looking keynotes and a review by the conference chairs that will set the agenda until the next MCPC.

    • Vishal Gupta, Elsevier: Wither Scientific Publishing? Collaborative Innovation, Open Platforms and Personalized Workflow Solutions Has an Answer (slides)
    • Kent Larson, MIT Media Lab: Urbanization from a Perspective of Mass Customization and Open Innovation (slides)
    • Mitchell Tseng, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology: Embodying Innovation for Customer Value – Building Bridges Between Mass Customization and Open Innovation (slides)


    MCPC 2011 Business Seminar (I): Focus on Mass Customization and Customer Co-Creation
    Bridging Mass Customization and Open Innovation

    The MCPC 2011 Business Seminar kicks-off with an introduction by the conference chairs and two corporate leaders that have pushed mass customization to a new level.

    • Henry Chesbrough, UC Berkeley and Frank Piller, RWTH/MIT: Bridging Mass Customization & Open Innovation: A framework (slides + video)
    • Cathy Benko, Vice Chairman, Deloitte U.S. Firms: Mass Career Customization: From Corporate Ladder to Corporate Lattice (slides + video)
    • Matt Lauzon, Foudner & CEO, Gemvara: Establishing Mass Customization in a High-End Luxury Market (slides + video)

    Building & Growing a Mass Customization Business

    In this panel, three experienced entrepreneurs in mass customization will share their best practices on what did work and what not.

    • Mark Dwight, Founder & CEO, Rickshaw Bagworks: Design for Mass Customization: Real World Approaches for Design and Manufacturing (slides + video)
    • Anthony Flynn, Founder & CEO, You Bars: Profiting from the Mega-Trend of Food Customization (slides + video) 
    • Josh Elman, Principal, Greylock Partners: Investing in the Customization Trend (slides + video) 

    Setting Up a Mass Customization System

    This session will focus on the different business models that are behind the mass customization trend.

    • Brennan Mulligan, Founder, Skyou: What I Learned from Setting Up Five Successful MC Companies (slides + video)
    • Karl Berger, VP Engineering, Bene AG: Developing Solution Spaces for MC (slides + video)
    • Claudia Kieserling, CEO, Selve, and Ilissa Howard, Founder, Milk and Honey Shoes: Establishing a Mass Customization Factory in China (slides + video)

    Mass Customization from the Customers‘ Perspective: Designing Interaction Systems

    Three rapid panel presentations will provide a lot of inspiration and food for thought for small group discussions with your peers.

    • Andrew Guldman, VP of Engineering, Fluid, and Rob Jellesed, Director of Internet Sales, JELD-WEN Windows: Implementing Mass Customization in an Established Company (slides + video)
    • Paul Blazek, CEO, cyLEDGE: Crucial Design Elements for Successful Configuration and Interaction (slides + video)

    The Future of Mass Customization: The New Open Manufacturing System

    Additive Manufacturing and the opportunity for every consumer to turn any idea into a product will change not just mass customization, but our dominant perspective of design and manufacturing. Learn the key facts from visionaries and business leaders in this field.

    • Wim Michiels, Executive Vice President, Materialise: The Industrial Revolution 2.0: Personalization through Additive Manufacturing (slides + video)
    • David ten Have, CEO, Ponoko: Building the World’s Easiest Making System (slides + video)
    • Reinhard Poprawe, Director, Fraunhofer ILT and RWTH Aachen University: Laser Additive Manufacturing – The Key to the Next Generation of Economic Custom Production (slides + video)


    MCPC 2011 Business Seminar (II): Focus on Open Innovation and Open Business Models
    Winning with Open Innovation

    The business seminar today will focus on open innovation. We will start the day by two inspirational keynotes on companies that really „got it“ in open innovation and co-creation.

    • Ashish Chatterjee, Director Connect+Develop, Procter & Gamble: Celebrating a Decade of Open Innovation at P&G – Key Lessons (slides + video)
    • Suzan Briganti, Eyeka / Totem Brand Strategy, and Edward Rinker, Clorox: Co-Creation at the Top of the Fortune 500 (slides + video)

    Using Social Media for Customer Co-Creation

    Social media is becoming a core platform for new product & new service development. Learn from the pioneers in this field and discuss how these approaches could work in your company.

    • John Jacobsen, Head of Engineering, Quirky: Social Product Development: Launching a Great New Product Every Few Days (slides + video)
    • Johann Füller, Hyve: Facilitating Social Innovation by Co-Creation (slides + video)

    The Tools for Open Innovation

    Implementing open innovation is not always easy. This session will provide a focused few on approaches and tools to utilize the benefits of open innovation.  

    • Mark Hatch, CEO, TechShop: BOOM! An Innovation Explosion: How to Change the World Through Open Access to the Tools of Invention (slides + video)
    • TJ Giuli, Ford Research and Advanced Engineering, Ford Motor Company: Leveraging Open Innovation to Create a Customized Driving Experience (slides + video)
    • Leah Hunter, Global Head of Insights and Innovation, Idea Couture: Making Co-Creation Strategic (slides + video)

    Profiting from Open Innovation and Co-Creation

    A opportunity to discuss with your peers how to put the ideas from this day into practice, kicked-off by a presentation of one of the key enablers of open innovation.

    • Andy Zynga, CEO, Nine Sigma: Making Open Innovation Work (slides + video)


    *Note: Why do we sell these proceedings and do not provide open access?  First, this would have been unfair to all people participating at the conference and paying the full fee there. Second, organizing such a conference is a big effort and investment, and we still need the proceeds from this publication to cover our cost. Third, many authors and presenters do not want to have their papers and presentations openly on the web, but agreed to a controlled publication only.