Just yesterday, I wrote about Google's efforts to involve users more directly in product development via its Google Labs site, by adding new features such as an RSS feed, an iGoogle widget, and the ability to comment on and rate projects. Involving outsiders this way brings in the kinds of diverse and honest viewpoints that aren't always easy to obtain in corporate environments -- even ones as famously loosey-goosey as Google. Dell is another company that actively seeks and implements user input, on its IdeaStorm site.
The idea is gaining plenty of momentum in mainstream circles. And only a short decade (sarcasm intended) after Doc Searls and friends wrote The Cluetrain Manifesto.
All but one of Peter Birley's seven tips for generating and gathering new ideas included in a silicon.com column involve working with folks outside the corporate walls. (The sole exception is a suggestion to create an internal innovation portal where employees are encouraged to submit ideas.) A few of them: