To encourage innovation, make it a competition

by: Anil Rathi

The competition format has fueled major successes in business. Fortune 500 companies like AT&T and American Express often sponsor online creativity contests to inspire innovation among their customers, while Kickstarter and other crowdfund platforms have ideas compete to win funding. And organizations can also use competitions to drive innovation within their own workforces.

For example, Thompson Reuters created a “catalyst fund” to encourage and support new ideas. To access it, teams of employees compete by presenting and defending their most compelling ideas to an innovation investment committee. The Department of Health and Human Services also recently launched a “Shark Tank”-style competition where multiple employee teams compete to pitch their best ideas to senior officials.

However, while internal competitions may sound easy enough to deploy, there are key design and management principles to consider if you want them to yield good ROI. Having helped over two hundred companies and large organizations deploy internal and external competitions, we’ve found four elements that will lead to success:

Frame the competition around a specific need. “Design the next big thing” is not a good challenge statement.

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