What portion of your cell phone’s myriad features do you use? Market research shows that most mobile phone owners use less than 20 percent. The innovation that matters isn’t what the innovator offers; it’s what the customer adopts. And as organizations recognize this, they’re starting to use their customers as a source of innovative introspection.

In industry after industry, a shared model for innovation adoption is emerging. The most valuable “platforms” — the tools and technologies used internally to discover, design, and test new products and services — can be creatively and cost-effectively sold or lent to customers, clients, and prospects. Customers get a chance to “try before they buy.” They can adopt and test new ideas and technologies before investing in them. And the purveyors of new technologies rapidly gain insights into the potential value of their wares — insights that might otherwise take years to gather.

One company that understands this is the networking giant Cisco Systems Inc. Over the years, Cisco’s architects and engineers have developed scads of internal tools that allow them to design, configure, optimize, and compare alternative network infrastructures. They often run sophisticated simulations, for example, to determine the number of routers and switches to recommend to customers, or to show prospects how a proposed implementation might work.

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