Research paper: External hacker communities and industry-wide innovation sources: The role of disruptive, autonomous end-users and consumers on internal R&D teams within device manufacturing firms


In a qualitative study of hacker innovation communities and their influence internally on firms, it is found that strategically significant codified feature-based knowledge generated externally by hacker communities is absorbed by firms through passive, non-engaged transfer to internal R&D departments for use in future product innovations via a process of covert community free-riding without formal engagement policies. The major contribution is to describe the knowledge creation process types between hacker communities and firms including value transfer dynamics in a conceptual framework. It is argued that free-riding of communities by firms occurs due to perceptions of the originating intellectual property, organisational culture and policy, the nature and type of knowledge generated by hackers and anonymity of open access to external, highly-complimentary knowledge sources.

An interesting implication for this finding lies in the possibility of making predictions about how and when knowledge absorption may occur from hacker communities to firms. Under conditions where strategic focus is on proving new products, the business cases and gaining market share, firms may be more likely to facilitate and discretely-absorb, external innovation knowledge sources from hacker communities. This adds to our understanding of extreme user-innovators and how, unrestricted by IP regimes, they can influence the internal R&D process; including more broadly how to nurture them.


Conceptual framework of knowledge transfer and added value across organisational boundaries from end-user hacker communities to firms with fundamental organisational differences and similarities.


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Mike Pinder

About Mike Pinder

Mike Pinder is a Senior Innovation Consultant at Board of Innovation, helping global Fortune 500 to innovate like startups from innovation strategy to design thinking, lean startup and business model innovation to create intrapreneurial troublemakers. With 10+ years’ experience guiding executives and project teams, cross-industry in B2B/B2C for clients like GE, ABinBev, ZF, Logitech, ING, Bpost. His research interests center around external hacker innovation communities and their role on design trajectories within large corporates.

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