How 'Internal' Users Contribute to Corporate Product Innovation: The Case of Embedded Users

Posted: 18 Apr 2013 Last revised: 22 Oct 2014

See all articles by Tim Schweisfurth

Tim Schweisfurth

Technische Universität München (TUM); Hamburg University of Technology (TUHH)

Cornelius Herstatt

Technical University Hamburg-Harburg (TUHH)

Date Written: April 18, 2013


Harnessing tacit knowledge rooted in use experience for innovation is a major challenge for firms. To do so, firms have to find ways to extract, transfer and interpret this knowledge and then to best combine it with the firm's technical expertise. This paper explores a phenomenon that is novel to research and significant in practice: “Embedded Users”. We define embedded users as firm employees, who are at the same time users of the firm's products. Embedded users are deeply embedded both inside and outside the firm and integrate user as well as solution related knowledge. Because of these characteristics embedded users are highly qualified to innovate. With our paper we shed light on this hitherto under-researched phenomenon and focus on the question, how embedded users contribute to corporate innovation, and more specifically what resources and capabilities they deploy during the innovation process. We use interview data from 23 firms (35 interviews) in the sporting, leisure and individual healthcare industries. Our findings show that embedded users exist in practice. They draw on knowledge resources (use knowledge, solution knowledge, organizational knowledge) and social resources (structural, relational, cognitive capital) relevant for innovation. Our research shows that they significantly contribute to the innovation process of their firms, i.e. the ideation phase (idea generation, external information absorption, competitive intelligence), the development phase (specification setting, testing), and the marketing phase (company representation, opinion leadership). We contribute to theory by showing that there are individuals inside the firm, who draw on their use-related resources and capabilities to innovate. This adds to the notion that employees can exhibit an absorptive capacity towards need knowledge, which plays a central role in the innovation process.

Keywords: user innovation, lead user, orgaizational behavior, boundary spanner

Suggested Citation

Schweisfurth, Tim and Herstatt, Cornelius, How 'Internal' Users Contribute to Corporate Product Innovation: The Case of Embedded Users (April 18, 2013). Available at SSRN: or

Tim Schweisfurth (Contact Author)

Technische Universität München (TUM)

Arcisstrasse 21
Munich, 80333

Hamburg University of Technology (TUHH) ( email )

Schwarzenbergstrasse 95
Hamburg, DE Hamburg 21073
040428783833 (Phone)

Cornelius Herstatt

Technical University Hamburg-Harburg (TUHH) ( email )

Hamburg, D-21071

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