Create an Open Innovation Culture through Competitions

June 24, 2014
Contests and events are a simple way to initiate open innovation and begin building an open culture within an organization.

Anywhere you see conversations about innovation there is usually some hat tipping to open innovation and its role in product development. Though a majority of organizations use some form of open innovation—78% according to UC Berkeley’s Managing Open Innovation in Large Firms report—many still struggle with the challenges inherent to open innovation, such as:

• What open innovation strategy is right for us?

• How can we get the organization to move away from the “not invented here” mentality and embrace an open culture?

• How can we make open innovation mutually beneficial for us and our stakeholders?

APQC’s recent best practices study, Open Innovation: Enhancing Idea Generation Through Collaboration, looks at how organizations overcome these challenges; particularly how best-practice organizations engage employees, customers and partners in the open innovation process. 

Three best-practice organizations in the study—British Telecommunications, Cisco Systems and Amway—use events and contests to engage employees and external partners (i.e., suppliers and customers) in their open innovation efforts. Contests and events are particularly suitable because they include elements of play and competition and a use sense of ownership to establish an open culture. However, organizations should adhere to a few key tenets to ensure their efforts are successful.

Use exposure to senior management and career development opportunities to drive participation

At British Telecommunications (BT), employee teams compete in My Customer Challenge Cup, a contest to develop new ideas. The contest has quarterfinals, semifinals and a grand final level, and as teams move through each level they get greater exposure within the company. Additionally, all teams that complete their projects receive a blue ribbon award that is noted in each team member’s profile on BT’s internal directory. The leaders of winning teams are often promoted within the organization.

Cisco Systems’ annual global Launchpad competition is both an employee development effort and a means of generating innovative customer solutions. In four global locations, six-person cross-functional teams (comprised of high-potential, manager-level employees) are assigned one of two challenges to solve in six weeks. Each team works with an internal Cisco consultant and presents their solution to senior vice presidents “shark tank” style. The winning team receives both compensation for its effort and resources to develop its idea.

Keep contest submissions simple

Amway holds what it calls a 5x5 event—a contest in which employees present new ideas for products, technologies, or business process challenges. The contest gets its name from the idea presentation requirements. Each presentation is limited to five slides given in five minutes. This forces presenters to focus on the business case and what unique value the idea will provide.

Reinforce the concept that good ideas can come from anywhere

BT’s hothouses—three-day competitive events similar to hackathons—bring together individuals across business units and external groups (i.e., customers, suppliers and partners) with an interest in a particular product or service. The 80 to 90 participants are split into cross-discipline teams and given a specific product or service problem to solve. At the end of each day teams present their ideas and progress to a panel of senior executives for the business that will ultimately own the product or service and, when possible, to customers. Other teams attend the presentations and are encouraged to steal ideas from one another. This reinforces exposure to a broader array of ideas and ensures the winning idea is a combination of the best ideas developed during the hothouse.

Contests and events are a simple way to initiate open innovation and begin building an open culture within an organization. By adhering to these three simple principles, organizations can establish a structured environment that will engage employees and stakeholders and secure a broader range of ideas for business, product, or service challenges.

Holly Lyke-Ho-Gland is a research specialist, business excellence with APQC, a member-based nonprofit and one of the leading proponents of benchmarking and best practice business research. Working with more than 500 organizations worldwide in all industries, APQC focuses on providing organizations with the information they need to work smarter, faster, and with confidence.

About the Author

Holly Lyke-Ho-Gland

Holly Lyke-Ho-Gland is a principal research lead who conducts and publishes APQC research on process management and improvement, quality, project management, measurement, and benchmarking for APQC’s Process and Performance Management research team. Her research supports APQC members and clients across disciplines and centers on helping professionals and project managers solve business problems with strategy, process and measurement.

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