Blog post

Compete to Innovate: The Ultimate Guide to Running an Innovation Challenge

Today, to be innovative in an increasingly dynamic global market means to be competitive. Organizations that can successfully seize their competitive advantage in the market undoubtedly become innovation leaders in their space. Innovation and competition are two words that go hand-in-hand. As innovation spurs competition, competition spurs innovation.

Competitions and challenges are becoming increasingly popular tools used by innovation teams to help develop inventive solutions to organizational challenges. Their utility in various industries is evident; from helping corporations improve product and service offerings (take for example Netflix’s 1 Million dollar prize for sourcing the best collaborative filtering algorithm), to more philanthropic pursuits (such as prizes awarded by the prestigious X-prize, which encourage technological development to benefit humanity). Competitions can also help encourage breakthroughs that have significant benefits for organizations, as well as society as a whole.

Why innovation competitions and challenges work

The crucial question organizations ask themselves when considering to undertake an innovation competition or challenge - will it work?

Traditionally, innovation within an organization flowed in from one important branch: the R&D department. However, R&D departments have sometimes lacked an outward thinking approach to innovation. Innovation competitions help organizations get out of their innovation bubble and look for alternative sources of idea inspiration, such as employees in other departments or bodies outside of their organization.

Motivation is the key to driving idea generation, while incentives are a driving factor of motivation. As it just so happens, incentives are at the core of any innovation competition or challenge. It's important to consider that while a 1 million dollar prize for a competition is certainly a mouth-watering reward, financial incentives are not the only motivation for participation in competitions. Nonfinancial motivations, such as the thrill of competition, passion for the cause, building skills and reputational factors, can also be a significant motivator for participants. This is part of the reason why innovation competitions and challenges are such powerful tools, providing extrinsic motivation on various levels.

Another reason competitions are a great tool for sparking innovation is the diversity of knowledge and expertise they bring to the challenge at hand. The diversity of participants creates a greater probability of valuable outcomes. Competitions can attract participants from varied fields, offering insights and solutions from other industries or disciplines. With fresh perspectives, these participants can often solve challenges with a more innovative approach.

Know when to use an innovation competition or challenge

The next crucial thought for any organization is to evaluate to what extent a competition would meet its innovation objectives.

A competition should form part of an overall innovation strategy and serves best in the following instances:

  • When there is a need to develop new solutions to an existing problem
  • When there is a new market that needs to be addressed
  • When there is a need to create new solutions for new ventures

Note that it's also important to understand in which instances an organization should not use a competition:

  • A competition should not be undertaken when there is no clear problem defined to be addressed
  • A competition should not be used if the organization feels there is an adequate pool of participants that can dedicate their time and resources

Competition and challenge design

A competition is only as good as its design. For organizations, understanding the best approach to conduct an innovation competition is important for the program's effective execution.

Here are a few points competition designers need to consider:

  • Define the problem: The most crucial step of the program design is the first step - defining the problem at hand and defining the desired outcome of the program. The organization needs to clarify the exact outcomes they seek and how these outcomes can be addressed through a competition.
  • Pick your participants: Competition designers need to take into account what is most likely to motivate their participants. As discussed, while financial incentives can be a great motivator for some participants, nonfinancial incentives can be equally as motivating for others. These are important considerations that administrators need to make when developing prizes and incentives.
  • Round up your participants: When recruiting participants for a competition, it's important to consider what specific expertise the competition entails. Some programs may benefit from involving participants with specific technical expertise, while others may benefit from selecting a broader range of participants with diverse expertise.
  • Get your judges together: The right recruitment of judges is also crucial. Judges should have the appropriate technical expertise, as well as the availability to commit to the process.
  • Define the process: To define the process of the competition, it’s important to consider the rules that will shape the competition, eligibility requirements, timelines and competition stages.
  • Communication: It's important to consider how a competition will be advertised and promoted to attract the right participants, and how to subsequently keep participants updated on competition activities throughout the program. Communication techniques to employ include: public events, social media, press release and organization websites.
  • Build the competition or challenge platform: Building the right infrastructure to host the competition is incredibly important. The platform used to run the competition should be equipped with features and functionalities that will ensure the program is executed effectively.

Game-changing innovation

Innovation comes from motivation. Motivation to think strategically, creatively, and analytically.

Innovation teams know that to harness the right solution to a problem, they need to effectively engage and motivate a community of thinkers to inspire successful idea generation.

Competitions and challenges are powerful innovation tools used to mobilize action amongst diverse groups to develop game-changing solutions. They yield high-quality idea submissions and help to foster an environment where participants can enhance their skills and abilities. Moreover, they help promote organizational change by promoting innovation across an organization and inspiring passion and visionary thinking. Competitions and challenges help to propel innovation to a new level.

Need help running your competitions, challenge, or award program, talk to us today.

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