Innovation like "American Idol"

An effective way of gathering and selecting ideas or solutions to an issue is to use an innovation process similar to American Idol: The popular American TV show uses a number of criteria and a judging committee to winnow down thousands of wannabe singers into one exceptional talent through a structured filtration process.

The practice of applying the same model within an organization or an external crowd community is what I would like to refer to as an Innovation Tournament. The tournaments can be held either online or offline or as I mentioned internally or externally: After years of observation, I can tell you that independent of their form, tournaments can allow companies to get great results at a relatively low cost (Think of IBM Jam for internal use or Google’s “Product Ideas” as External use).

In its online form, like its counterparts in sports or TV programs, a company can post a problem on a web platform highlighting the expected outcome. Through a structured, multi-phase approach, the company can then systematically elicit a large number of potential solutions and reach the truly exceptional opportunities by the end of the tournament.

The beauty of the tournament process is that it usually leads to a win-win scenario: Companies will identify a high quality solution to their problem, the winner receives monetary prize and recognition, and the other participants will enjoy the fun and learning opportunities which the competition in their area of interest provides.

Pay-offs Improve as Opportunity Moves Through Tournament (Adapted from: Innovation Tournaments, 2009)

Pay-offs Improve as Opportunity Moves Through Tournament (Adapted from: Innovation Tournaments, 2009)

Wharton professors Karl Ulrich and Christian Terwiesch who have covered this idea in their book “Innovation Tournaments“, found out that tournaments are a great way to improve quality of solutions and identify exceptional opportunities. As the ideas and potential solutions move through the phases, the pay-offs improve.

While the concept of a tournament has been used in the R&D area in various forms or shapes for decades, the other functional areas of value chain have been slower in terms of adoption.

What do you think is the reason? Do you have interesting examples of tournaments in mind based on your experience?

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