Back in 2007 I wrote about a group called the X Foundation and its contest for entrepreneurs to create new technologies to improve space travel, an approach The New York Times called "something like an 'American Idol' for the technorati." I also mentioned companies like Nokia and Electrolux that sponsored contests inviting folks to submit designs for consumer goods.
This idea of tapping outsiders for innovative ideas seemed fairly radical at the time. Since then it's become practically commonplace, thanks to Web sites like Dell's IdeaStorm and MyStarbucksIdea.com, which collect and vet ideas from consumers, and the increasing willingness of companies like Google, Apple and Microsoft to open up their application programming interfaces (APIs) so third parties can create new apps based on their software.
Wipro Technologies and Knowledge@Wharton are sponsoring an "Innovation Tournament," which they will hope will uncover some great and heretofore unexplored ideas for managerial tools that organizations can use to boost efficiencies, cut costs and/or streamline their operations. (It'll also generate some publicity for the book "Innovation Tournaments: Creating and Selecting Exceptional Opportunities" by Wharton professors Karl Ulrich and Christian Terwiesch.)
The tournament is open to anyone in the world who wants to submit a tool for consideration. In this case, a "tool" is defined as a method, approach, template, process or software. Deadline for entry is Nov. 6.
A panel of judges including members of the Wharton faculty, the Knowledge@Wharton team and the Wipro Council for Industry Research, will narrow the field to 25 contenders to move on to the second round of judging, a live webinar in which the contestants will give two-minute presentations spotlighting their tools. (The equivalent of "American Idol's" trip to Hollywood.)
Ten finalists will be selected and assigned mentors to help them refine their ideas for the third and final stage of judging, a live event at the University of Pennsylvania. (I think it's safe to say Quentin Tarantino won't be one of the mentors, and none of the judges are likely to be as snarky as Simon Cowell.) The top three presentations/tools will receive prizes. Their creators also will be featured in podcasts on both the Knowledge@Wharton and Wipro Web sites. It doesn't cost anything to enter, though folks making it to the final round of judging will need to get to Philadelphia for the live event.
Like Netflix, perhaps Wipro and the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School see these kinds of contests as a far less expensive alternative to more traditional methods of research and development.