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How many competitors are in your innovation race?

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How many competitors are in your innovation race?

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As a cyclist, I can easily compete against others in my club, and each race will produce a winner, albeit one from quite a small field.

Of course, it’s relatively easy to scale things up and compete against others from other clubs. This generally produces a more worthy (fitter) winner, but the cost of putting on such an event increases.

Events like the Maratona dles Dolomites tend to have entrants from around the World, and therefore the quality of the field tends to be pretty high, and the organizational costs go up another level.

And so on you go all the way up the professional ranks until you get to events such as the Tour de France or the Olympics, which attract the best athletes in the world.

It’s fair to say that the winners of those events can justly be regarded as the best of breed. The costs of organizing such a contest however put off all but a few.

So how does this relate to innovation? Well it’s relatively easy to have an ‘innovation’ team or department within your organization, and they might produce some great ideas, but because the field is so small, it’s akin to the race between club members mentioned earlier. It’s simple enough to organize but may not give you the best results.

Another option is to open up innovation to anyone within your organization. This is likely to produce many more ideas, from which you’ll hopefully get better outcomes, but the cost of managing that process (soliciting ideas, filtering ideas, executing them…) also go up. This is akin to your regional race, or if you’re a huge multinational, perhaps something akin to the Maratona.

If you open things up to people outside of your organization you open your doors to entrants from wherever they may reside. This can be fantastic for your innovation, but it does nonetheless add a layer of cost and complexity to the whole affair.

The costs involved

It goes without saying that the methods for screening opportunities are not equal in terms of their costs.  The general theory should be that if screening is cost effective, then the more entrants the better, whereas if screenings takes up considerable time and energy, then fewer entrants are better.

It’s usually the case that screening becomes more complex the more in depth your analysis goes.  To use a TV talent show as an example (X Factor et al), the sifting through the early entrants is fairly easy as the differences in quality are stark.  As you get into the latter stages however, the differences are much smaller and therefore more analysis is required.

When you think through the size of your own ‘race’, think of some of the following questions to guide you:

  • How much would it cost to expand the entry list of your competition?
  • How big is the difference between the very best entrants and the average?

Once you’ve understood both of these questions, then it’s much easier to gauge whether you should aim for a lot of entrants or significantly fewer.

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