Whether it is the Charkha challenge of Gandhi in 1920s or the Ansari X-Prize challenge of 1990s related to spacecraft development, innovation campaigns have played big role in fostering innovation. What kinds of choices are involved in designing an innovation campaign? Prof. Christian Terwiesch and Prof. Karl Ulrich of Wharton School have presented following 4 design choices in their book “Innovation tournaments: Creating and selecting exceptional opportunities”.
- Open or closed: Open campaigns are run in public. For example, both Gandhi’s charkha challenge and Ansari X-prize competition mentioned earlier were open to everyone. In contrast, most of the innovation campaigns launched in companies are restricted to its employees. Perhaps some of the customer-specific campaigns in companies may be open to only to specific employees working on the specific customer project. One reason for keeping a campaign closed could be for protecting the intellectual property and another could be cost and ease of management. However, companies like Google, GE and others regularly launch open campaigns (e.g. see GE’s ecomagination challenge).
- Pure cascade or allow renewal : Do you allow once dropped ideas to improve and re-enter? Or do you allow the selected ideas to improve further or get combined with some other idea? Or does your campaign consider the first submission to be final? For example, out of the first six entries that came as a response to Gandhi’s charkha challenge of 1920, two looked promising. One was from Baroda and the other was from Sialkot. They were given more time to refine their models and demonstrate again. However, the other four ideas weren’t given that choice. Terwiesch and Ulrich mention that innovation campaigns at Deloitte have an explicit collaboration phase during which the filtered ideas get enhanced.
- One round or multiple rounds: How many rounds will the selected ideas go through before declaring winners? Will it be one, two, three etc? For example, the ideas submitted to the Power of Ideas campaign organized by IIMA, Department of Science and Technology and Economic Times in 2012 went through first-shortlist, one-one-one mentoring for an Elevator Pitch, final shortlist, followed by intensive ten day mentoring at IIMA followed by final result.
- Absolute or relative filter: Ansari X-prize challenge was to build private spaceships capable of carrying three people and fly two times within two weeks to 100km from Earth. Another Automotive X-prize challenge announced in 2010 was to build a super-efficient vehicle that achieves 100 miles per gallon efficiency. These are challenges with absolute filters. In contrast, Google Apps Developer challenge in 2012 was to build an amazing application in one of the three specified categories like small business solutions, games, education, water etc. The criteria included things like effective use of Google APIs, originality, relevance, polish or appeal etc. That’s relative filter.
Related article: 4 ways to improve the performance of innovation tournaments, Dec 3, 2012 (based on Prof. Ulrich's talk at Wharton)