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Facilitating Systematic Innovation – Innovation Contests

By Courtney Shannon Strand

When a company or group advertises a bright ideas contest for the public, it lends the appearance of innovation. What could be better than opening the door to any and all creative ideas? The more hands in the pot the better, right?

An ideas or “innovation” contest is meant to motivate and capture innovative ideas to break barriers and grow new markets. And with the lure of a cash prize who would not be motivated to give it a whirl? But where do you find the next bright idea?

Systematic Innovation

Systematic innovation (SI) is an organized process used to evaluate opportunities that invite change in a company. It entails complex interactions among the individuals of a company and the work culture surrounding it. The mindset goes hand-in-hand with a method like the Theory of Inventive Problem Solving (TRIZ). In TRIZ the knowledge-based method is designed to generate ideas and solutions to problem solving, unlike brainstorming where the idea generation is random, much like a contest.

In order for a company to succeed in SI they must look to the smart people they hired in the first place, not to the public. Employees of a company were (or should have been) hired to:

  • Be the voice of the customers
  • Help deliver high quality and innovative products
  • Anticipate failures
  • Have the skill set to invent new ideas

These employees were hired because they possess all those skills and more. When a company advertises an innovation contest outside their talented employees it deters from SI and sends a message to current employees that they cannot do their jobs. This can put a damper on employees’ abilities to work together for the better of the company.

Company’s Path to Innovation

Many companies have not created a path to innovation with the overall culture of a company. Think about it. Is the word “innovation” in your company’s mission statement? If not, it is time to feature it.

In order to be successful with SI one must first realize that each company builds its own solution. Since a company’s solution is unique to itself, the same solution will not work for another company. For example, McDonald’s in the land of hamburgers and fries and multiple chains is unlikely to use the same SI model as Honda whose focus revolves around automobiles. Both companies are very different and so are their potential SI models.

When innovations are developed internally, it ensures the company will not get stuck in a non-creative rut. The easiest way to start with a SI model is to do three things:

  1. Identify innovation barriers within the company.
  2. Systematically eradicate any barriers.
  3. Tweak existing processes; do not start brand new processes.

Contests breed competition and competition in numbers can be fierce. But what about throwing a contest for your own employees? Instead of advertising a contest with a big cash reward for the public save the money and put it back into your talented employees. Use their knowledge to grow the company and give SI a try. When employees feel supported they are free to swim in creativity and help the bottom line of an organization.

If a company feels the need to advertise an innovation contest there is probably a problem internally. Maybe the wrong employees were hired for the job? Maybe a company lacks that one key person to bridge the gap to success? Maybe no one is working as a team?

Spend the time investigating and tweaking company processes, get employees involved with incentive programs that fire them up to think up the next bright idea. Make sure the next big idea starts inside the company. Just like teamwork counts in sports it also counts at work. Be a team and work out problems together because teamwork, not public contests, breeds a company’s innovation success.

Popular Innovation Contests

  • X-Prize is the largest of all innovation contests; they offer contests in several categories to stimulate innovation.
  • IDB’s energy innovation contest is looking for bright ideas that will help create access to energy, support the promotion of renewable energy and energy efficiency, and contribute to a sustainable economy. Prize: $200,000 funding to develop your idea. Contest ends May 2009.
  • BMW’s innovation contest is looking for ideas on how to build new BMW motorcycles. Next idea workshop is June 20, 2009 in Berlin.
  • European Satellite Navigation Competition 2009 is an international innovation contest designed to award the best ideas for applications in satellite navigation. Contest ends July 31, 2009.
  • Cincinnati Innovates is an innovation contest for people in the Greater Cincinnati area. Submit your innovation, idea or invention for a chance to win several prizes including $20,000. Contest ends September 1, 2009.
  • The PolyPower Applied Innovation Contest 2009is looking for innovative ideas to design and build a working prototype of a device using PolyPower film and/or InLastor actuators and sensors. Sign up for contest before September 9, 2009 for a chance to compete.

About the Author:

Courtney Shannon Strand is a freelance editor and writer for CTQ Media. Contact Courtney Shannon Strand at copystrands (at)