Innovation Tournaments: When Innovation meets Incrementalism

During an interview held at the Wharton Mack Center Conference in 2010, Professor Christian Terwiesch argued that one of the most interesting and surprising features of Innovation Tournaments is their gradual advance towards sophisticated developments.

According to Terwiesch, the earlier rounds of Innovation Tournaments are only the beginning of a process where “the power of domination kicks in once the rounds go by, thus filtering out the bad ideas”. This “crowding out” effect drives the entire scheme towards more competitive stages that will help play out new solutions.

Brian Solis has explained that incrementalism “improves something iteratively” while innovation “introduces us to something new”. In that sense, Innovation Tournaments are the best of both worlds, since they promote innovation from the outset and also, through their selection process, they also encourage incremental adjustments that further improve the new ideas that are being developed.

Bringing together incremental change and innovative dynamics ultimately translates into a disruptive breakout. Such ecosystem helps reinvent business operations, thus making it easier for firms to deal better with the challenges they are facing.

In a way, fine tuning ideas through Innovation Tournaments is a key step towards encouraging the birth of better opportunities. The competitive nature of Innovation Tournaments ensures that participants will think outside the box or perhaps even against the box, thus enhancing the dynamic nature of these competitions.

Firms that look to improve their daily operations through Innovation Tournaments should take the broadest view on the matter. Internal paths to change are ultimately much more restricted than open processes where outside forces compete between themselves to produce new opportunities that will take the company forward.

Take the case of Audi’s Production Award program. As we explained before, this challenge is open to participants around the world, so students, engineers, scientists… are welcome to submit their visions of change. The earlier stage of the 2012 edition included more than 70 participants. Once their ideas where analyzed by Audi’s experts, the seven concepts that earned a higher grade where picked for an in-house workshop. In this new stage, an upgraded version of each proposal was put forward by all the finalists, thus building upon and improving the earlier work that had already earned Audi’s praise.

At the end of the day, the development of Innovation should not be tied to chaotic, unplanned and uncontrollable outbreaks. Instead, new developments are the result of a careful selection process that is better served through open, well-managed Innovation Tournaments.

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