Cisco I-Prize and Spigit - Innovation Competition

One of the most common ways to get architects to work for free has always been the architecture competition. It appears that the same spirit is now flowing through the veins of Cisco who recently set up their “I-Prize” competition. Here is what they say about it:

Cisco I-Prize is an event where Cisco looks beyond its own resources and turns to the global community, the Human Network, to identify its next major business opportunity. Participants are invited to submit ideas. Before you do so, consider what problems your idea addresses, how it’s new and different, and who comprises your target market.

Cisco will select up to 32 semifinalist teams that will work with Cisco experts to build a business plan and presentation, using state-of-the-art collaboration tools. Up to eight finalist teams will present their business ideas to a judging panel to compete for the grand prize: a $250,000 award shared equally by members of the winning team.

Before you get all excited, you should note that the current competition is over so you will have to wait for the next one.

The idea of this is enticing. If your organization is filled with people so steeped in the company culture and business that they can’t envision a world outside, then getting fresh ideas for free is a win-win situation, at least for the winners. It may not be so great for the people who don’t win. And perhaps it might not be so great for the winning team either. How far does $250,000 go these days? But it is definitely great for Cisco.

Competitions have some other aspects besides just finding winners. They are great for publicity. Design competitions always put things in the spotlight and often increase public support. Sports competitions bring in millions of dollars of advertising. There are people who love to compete and people who love to watch. There are also those who love to bet. And this is where Spigit comes into play. Spigit makes software which helps to manage idea competition.

By manage I mean handling entries, ranking, rewarding those who participate as participants or as judges. It offers exchanges for handicapping the winning ideas. A complete set of their capabilities can be found here: http://www.spigit.com/products/quicktour.html

Perhaps it is a hangover from the last Tour de France, but when I think about any competition I also think about rules, referees and cheating. If you are going to institute this sort of competition internally or externally, make sure that you have some safeguards in place to keep people from gaming the system or the ideas that pour out of the end will be tainted with performance enhancers.

It is an interesting concept, and definitely one which is gaining currency with reductions of R&D spending and the increase in access to smart people from all over the world. Ideas for nearly free! Who can complain about that? But in the back of my mind there still lurks the question – are competitions sufficient? There are many tales of design competitions which resulted in truly nightmarish projects – look at the Sydney Opera Hall experience for example. The “winning” entry was not actually the winner of the competition, but rather was selected from the rejects by Eero Saarinen. The construction of the Hall was contentious and difficult and was not only 10 years late but also 1400% over budget. This points out two things – the role of expertise in judging ideas and the feasibility of the ideas. Popular vote may not be sufficient. And in many cases of innovation within an enterprise, speciallized knowledge is needed to judge feasibility. Both of these are probably good topics for a later post.

5 comments to Cisco I-Prize and Spigit – Innovation Competition?

  • Hey Jack -

    Good post. Indeed, tapping diverse ideas globally *is* valuable and achievable these days. That was the purpose of the I-Prize.

    You raise a good discussion point in your comment:

    If your organization is filled with people so steeped in the company culture and business that they can’t envision a world outside, then getting fresh ideas for free is a win-win situation, at least for the winners. It may not be so great for the people who don’t win.

    The first thing to note is, if you’re an entrepreneur with an idea you want to develop yourself, you don’t enter this competition. People are in charge of their destiny here.

    But there are many people with good ideas, but for whom entrepreneurship may not be an option. They may not be comfortable with that level of personal financial risk. They may have families where career stability is a must. They may have job situations they love, and aren’t interested in dropping out. They may not have the skills and connections to move their idea forward by themselves.

    From these people, great ideas can emerge. And indeed, they did. Large enterprises have the resources to co-create with external parties. It’s just a matter of a willingness to do so. Like Cisco.

    Good post, and I like your blog (want to understand AMAT’s exit from solar, which surprised me). Just added it to my Google Reader.

    Thanks,
    Hutch
    VP of Product
    Spigit, Inc.

  • [...] 09 2010 03:54:00 AM Posted By : Hutch Carpenter Comments (0) Jack Dahlgren wrote a good post, Cisco I-Prize and Spigit – Innovation Competition. In it, he examines some of the dynamics surrounding the recent Cisco I-Prize, and open innovation [...]

  • Another great example of a truly groundbreaking ‘Innovation Competition’ was just launched by GE. GE’s Ecomagination Challenge: Powering the Grid is a $200 million open innovation challenge to create the next generation electric grid. It is the largest open innovation challenge in history in terms of its scope, scale, prize dollars and commitment to implementation of top ideas. And it is powered by Brightidea.

  • Jack,

    Good post. But please don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater
    on all innovation contests.

    Public Contests have been the source of great innovation as
    the founder of the X-Prize Peter Diamandis is always quick
    to point out.

    I think it is the game-able spigit algorithm that is at fault.
    The site co-mingles user activity with pseudo prediction market
    concept, that leaves big holes for the gamers and little
    transparency for everyone else.

    As an example of how to do a public challenge right, I would
    point to GE’s ecomagination challenge (still active):

    http://www.ge.com/challenge

    Note the clear separation of public voting and expert evaluation
    on the back-end. As you can see, they are getting a lot of ideas
    (more than I-prize), and have some very credible organizations
    involved.

    Matt
    CEO, Brightidea Inc.
    @Brightidea

  • [...] Dahlgren wrote a good post, Cisco I-Prize and Spigit – Innovation Competition. In it, he examines some of the dynamics surrounding the recent Cisco I-Prize, and open innovation [...]

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