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.