4 Things to Never Do When Managing Open Innovation Competitions
We hear a lot of talk in the greater Open Innovation “space” that is often quite esoteric in nature. Rhetoric that talks of the wonders of the wisdom of the crowd, yet fails to offer a sincere level of granularity as to what really makes an Open Innovation community “tick” or how to manage an Open Innovation process so that you can achieve scale. After all, if you are entering Open Innovation to only “run” one competition, well that isn’t going to transform how you approach innovation and growth. Conversely, if your goals are to achieve a continuous innovation cycle via Open Innovation contests and challenges, then you will require that level of granularity that will help you master Open Innovation management. Let’s take some time to look at 4 things you should never do when managing an Open Innovation process.
Understanding What You are After in Open Innovation
Let’s create a great base of Open Innovation knowledge, starting right here. It is imperative that you – the manager of an Open Innovation platform and individual competitions taking place on “it” – understand what is achievable and what you should be after in different types of Crowdsourced challenges. See this graphic below: It outlines the 3 Pillars of Digital Creation and what you should be after in each pillar. To better understand each pillar and what the outputs in these types of contests provide, please read this previous TopCoder article – 3 Crucial Things: What You Really Want in Open Innovation & Crowdsourcing. Again, your mastery of Open Innovation comes from understanding and participation, so we highly recommend reading that linked article just above.
The most crucial piece to understand going forward is this: Some contests, focused on generating creative assets like design concepts, new UI/UXs, and the like are judged subjectively, while others that generate software components and performance algorithms are judged objectively. How you manage individual contests will depend greatly on how the outputs are judged. The “why” will become more clear as you read on.
4 No-No’s of Open Innovation
Now, with an understanding of what you should be after, we can begin to get more granular and discuss 4 things you should never do when managing an Open Innovation contest or series of contests. Let’s dive in.
This 1st “no-no” pertains to subjectively judged contests as mentioned above. When you are managing a competition that is design focused or hinges on innovative creativity, over-specifying or providing too much detail can be a very bad thing. Your potential contributors – those who would self-select the work and compete by submitting solutions for you – might be very unwilling to enter a creative contest if they feel their proverbial hands are tied out of the gate. Instead, provide quality references and specific elements of other designs and interfaces you find intriguing, communicate preferences, certainly communicate the goal of what the output will do, (Example – if you are building a conversion widget, you would want to communicate to the competitors who the audience for this widget would likely be, where and how they would experience this widget, etc…) but beyond that, you will want to allow room for creativity! It may seem unnatural at first to offer less specification than you feel you may need, but trust the community members you are working with and realize you will have opportunities to iterate on individual submissions later on in the contest process.
On the exact opposite end would be something like a software construction contest that is judged objectively. See more below.
In the case of an objectively judged contest, you want to make sure your inputs are not at all vague and up for individual interpretation. Simply put, code and algorithms are created to “do something” and how you specify exactly what that desired function is, what systems it must tie to, etc … will determine (at least partially) how good your outputs are. Also, think about the competitors for a second. If an input to an objectively judged competition comes across as vague or not well-enough defined, they likely will shy away and choose to spend their time elsewhere.
Important to note: At TopCoder we have specific competitions geared towards creating amazingly well-written specification documentation. Many clients utilize these competitions, while others choose to create their own specs. What’s important to note is; the choice is yours.
Remember, in Open Innovation management you are NOT doing the work, however there is still work that YOU will need to do. [tweet this]
Back to subjectively judged contests, it is crucial that you do not rush to judgement before a competition is complete!
Many outside the world of managing Open Innovation competitions (and let’s be fair, that is the vast majority of people as Open Innovation is still newer) likely don’t realize how iterative a process Open Innovation management can be. When you are dealing in front-end competitions – on the TopCoder platform – you are interfacing with creatives who are taking what is often a purposefully obtuse input (as we just discussed the perils of overly defining the inputs in a creative competition) and creating something brand-new for you. Often, their 1st attempt isn’t perfect. Elements of what they have crafted very well may be, but it’s highly probable you’ll have critiques to dish out. How you address the community members and provide guidance will have resounding impacts on the final outputs. Don’t rush to judgement and dismiss submissions that require guidance to get on the right path. Instead, look for elements that wow you, and spot when exceptional talent is on display – even if the overall submission “missed the mark”. Hone in on what was successful about the submission, then provide the feedback needed to get the creative more focused on overall success.
Important to note: At TopCoder, built into the platform are what we call ‘checkpoints’. In a creative competition, a checkpoint is your opportunity to look at the myriad submissions the first time through and provide individual feedback to the competitors, equipping them with the guidance they need to improve their solutions & designs, and re-submit them for round 2.
On the heels of the above “no-no”, this next one continues the importance of iteration in Open Innovation management.
If we could star or circle one of these 4 to highlight which one is crucially important, well, this just may be the one. Remember, in Open Innovation management you are NOT doing the work, however there is still work that YOU will need to do. As we just discussed; iteration is a crucial aspect of procuring great outputs from Open Innovation contests. If you “punt” this duty or give a half-hearted effort, your outputs will likely not be as strong as they could have been. Instead, block off time specifically for this effort. Go through your submissions at their natural ‘checkpoint’ and provide scores of feedback and suggestions to the competitor(s). Earlier we mentioned not being overly specific when creating the input specifications. Here at the checkpoints, (a truly iterative stage) you can be quite detailed with the individual contributors. What works best is guidance and suggestions. Focus on what will make the submissions stronger, point the creatives in that direction, and let their exceptional talent go back to work for you.
Continuing Your Mastery of Open Innovation and Crowdsourcing
Whether you are just reading about Open Innovation and TopCoder for the first time, or have now spent years working in Crowdsourced competitions, there is always more to learn, more to share, and more to accomplish. Here are a few assets that can help you on your journey.
TopCoder Webinar Series - http://www.topcoder.com/webinar/
15 Inno by Stefan Lindegaard - http://www.15inno.com/
Innovation Excellence - http://www.innovationexcellence.com/
Technology, Open Innovation, the Future: Subscribe to the TopCoder Blog (top right)
You Tweet? So do we. Join us on Twitter.
G+’er? Add TopCoder to a Circle today!
Crave great videos on innovation and technology? Subscribe right here!