Randall Wright gets it wrong in this MIT Tech Review piece, “Thinking of Running an Open Innovation Contest? Think Again.”
Innovation and creating a culture that fosters it has little to do with the extrinsic rewards offered by a contest. But, other attributes of a contest can be very helpful to (even enabling for!) innovation.
Innovation begins when those who are fluent in their fields begin to cross domain boundaries. Boundary-crossing is more frequent when people with different areas of expertise are given the time, space and resources within which they can collaborate. Sometimes, a contest can create just such an environment – to miss this fact is to miss the best reason to have a contest in the first place!
My team and I firmly believe that all innovators (and would be innovators) deserve the benefit of feedback from their field (the experts in their community) as to what works and what doesn’t with their idea. Innovation doesn’t exist until the new concept is adopted by the culture that surrounds it. Closing the feedback loop on innovators via experts’ thoughts is what’s needed.
Contests’ extrinsic rewards aren’t helpful to innovation. But, specifically encouraging boundary-crossing and creating an environment in which experts in the field will evaluate a given innovation is tremendously helpful to the process of innovation. Good contests focus on the latter, though the former certainly does tend to put “butts in the seats.”
Should one rely on contests to drive innovation? Of course not! But, to dismiss the role that a well designed contest can have on innovation is wrong.