Cisco has launched its second I-Prize global innovation contest, which is being powered by Spigit (disclosure: I work for Spigit). The I-Prize is a competition where entrepreneurs put forth their ideas for businesses related to one of the following:
- The future of work: solutions that will change the way companies and organizations do business
- The connected life: technological advancements that will dramatically improve living conditions and culture
- New ways to learn: solutions that will transform when, where and how people learn and educate
- The future of entertainment: solutions that will change how people play
Cisco’s goal is to find ideas that will become $1 billion businesses. The winning team in the I-Prize contest receives a cool $250,000.
A particularly interesting aspect of I-Prize is in its approach to open innovation. To clarify definitions, open innovation in this case refers to the sourcing of innovation from external parties. This is contrasted with internal, employee-led innovation. Open innovation is a powerful process that many companies have used successfully to outperform the market. At the Open Innovation Summit in Orlando, company practitioners repeatedly noted the value of tapping ideas and knowledge from a crowd much larger than their employee base.
Three Models of Open Innovation
The diagram below presents three models of open innovation:
In the realm of open innovation, there have conceptually been two models. The first model is a sustaining innovations design. Have customers propose ideas that reflect their interests in your product and service. This model is gaining importance as a way to be closer to end-customers, to gain their insights and be more connected than a simple transaction.
The second model of open innovation is one in which highly skilled participants are tapped to solve complex and strategic problems. Netflix ran a version of this with its Netflix Prize. These contests are competitive, and come with meaningful financial rewards. They generally are set up as closed processes: no one can see other teams’ submissions. For instance,
Cisco I-Prize is a different approach from the two traditional models. It is an open community, where everyone can see others’ ideas and provide feedback on them. But the competitive nature of the I-Prize – one team wins $250,000 – is consistent with the traditional closed process of crowdsourcing. It is seeking strategic innovations that will be $1 billion businesses.
What this means is that people who are gunning for the prize get visibility for those against whom they’re competing. For strategic, high financial reward contest, this is kind of radical. But there are good reasons to take this approach to open innovation.
Objectives are specific enough, without being too specific: Cisco has a well-defined set of areas for which it is seeking ideas. But look closely at them. The “New ways to learn” category spells out the nature of ideas that are requested. However, it doesn’t dictate final outcomes that an idea should address.
Diversity of ideas relative to the objective: The Netflix Prize had one single objective: have the highest prediction accuracy for people’s movie interests. Exposing mathematical algorithms in this environment would make it easy for others to steal the work for their own efforts. But with Cisco I-Prize, there will be multiple ideas that meet the objectives. This reduces the need for secrecy.
Tap a wider range of external interpreters: As discussed previously, people with more diverse connections generate higher quality ideas. Innovation researcher Roberto Verganti, in his book Design-Driven Innovation, highlighted a key differentiator of companies that outperform in terms of innovation. They access networks of “external interpreters”.
These are people who share an interest, broadly speaking, in similar trends affecting society. They come from different fields, and that diversity of perspectives is an incredibly valuable asset for companies. By opening up the I-Prize contest submissions for everyone, Cisco can access the views of these external interpreters for the various ideas submitted.
Collaboration is key: When ideas are visible to the community at large, they become the basis for interactions and collaboration among people who did not know each other previously. For Cisco, this dynamic is important. The company’s vision centers on collaboration, and the tools that foster it. Enabling global conversations on the future of work, home life, education and entertainment is a valuable outcome in its own right.
Spigit uniquely enables the Cisco I-Prize open innovation approach, integrating competitive selection and recognition features with a collaborative approach to crowdsourced innovation.
Join the global conversation. Sign up for I-Prize and share your views on what will define our work, leisure and education in the future.