How to Succeed with Innovation Challenges

We all know the philosophical thought experiment, “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”

The Open Innovation variant is “If a company posts an innovation challenge on their website, does it get viewed by people that matter?” For purposes of this post, a “challenge” or “call for innovation” or “product hunt” are all considered equivalent.

Challenges can be very provocative and useful means of solving for innovation wants and needs. By articulating more clearly what the company is looking for, a challenge is a way to better align goals with behaviors – “if you can do X, or solve for Y, I want to work with you. Please contact me.” It’s like sales lead generation in reverse.

However, the biggest obstacle to a challenge is promoting it and raising awareness. Companies have known for decades that awareness is directly correlated to sales and product success. People won’t buy what they don’t know about. And the inverse is true, people won’t sell you something if they’re not aware of your need. Yet for some odd reason, that knowledge of the importance of awareness does not seem to have permeated some Open Innovation teams. Posting challenges on a company website certainly is a fine baby step. But it has little upside as it is just too hard for customers, suppliers, potential suppliers, and collaborators to keep checking your company’s website just in case something has changed. That’s further compounded by the fact that innovation generally takes a company beyond it’s existing needs, so it’s even harder for a potential supplier to know that company Z is looking for something new and different that this potential supplier actually makes.

Challenges need to be promoted. They need to be targeted to relevant audiences. They need to be actively managed.