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The X Factor school of open innovation

10.08.2013
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The X Factor has been back on our screens over the past few weeks, with people lining up in their hundreds for a chance of fame and fortune (or ridicule).  I don’t know if the X Factor has travelled overseas, but I’m fairly sure the whole talent show concept has.

The early audition stages typically attract people in their thousands as auditions are held around the country.  The premise is a pretty simple one, with each of the participants hoping it will prove a fast track to fame and fortune.

Whilst there are no doubt many of you that will scoff at the artistic merit of those taking part, and indeed the ethical merit of those asking them to do so, but what is not in doubt is the enormous success of the concept.

They’ve taken what was traditionally a hidden process of nights spent scouring clubs to try and unearth the next hot act and turned it inside out, with the ultimate kingmakers now the fans themselves.  It’s shifted from industry folks deciding who should be the star to the people that buy their music.

The very public examination process ensures that it isn’t just the winners that often achieve successful careers, but also many of those that reach the latter stages of the contest.  Regardless of your opinion about the kind of acts that results from this kind of show, it has been without doubt a commercial smash hit, with a host of #1 songs from participants.

So how does this relate to the innovation process in your own company?

One of the main reasons for the success of TV talent shows is that they offer participants multiple ways to get involved.  Obviously the singers themselves are the principle actor, but viewers also play a major role in the process by casting their votes and having their say in a way that was always previously denied them.  One suspects that fans have always had this latent desire, and talent shows like X factor have merely tapped into that.

As a result, the show not only gets regular feedback on both the kind of product consumers wish to see, and of course the individual acts they wish to see, but they’re also generating a commitment from those supporters that their involvement will carry through to when acts enter the post-show world.  These supporters are essentially communicating that they’re happy and willing to buy tickets to gigs, or merchandising or records or whatever else can be produced around their favourite act.

This model has been adopted in various places in the commercial world, with arguably the t-shirt manufacturer Threadless the most well known.  The site asks people to submit designs for t-shirts, and the most popular ones are then put into production.

Such has been the success of the model that last year the site launched a partnership with high street retailer Gap to stock Threadless products in Gap stores, thus offering designers the opportunity for much wider exposure.

Both X Factor and Threadless understand the value in getting customer feedback and involvement before your products even hit the shops.  How can your own business benefit from such an approach?

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