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The World Benefit Innovation Tournament - Creating value from a box of rubberbands

Global contest innovating for World Benefit causes. Companies enter employee teams who turn random objects, like one red paper clip, into projects/funds for a cause. In lieu of costly training programs, employees learn valuable skills in innovation.

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Written by DeletedUser

This concept is based on Innovation Tournaments that Tina Seelig at Stanford's Technology Venture Program developed. (
Tournaments challenge people to create a new project or venture in a matter of days, with minimal resources, and teach them valuable innovation and entrepreneurship skills along the way.

For our purposes, the tournament is focused on creating the most value for World Benefit in a fixed period of time (maybe a week? a month?). Contestants are small teams of company employees - preferably those who already work together on the job. Teams select the World Benefit cause they want to support. And the type of value created is up to the team to choose - value can be interpreted in many many ways, not solely financial profits.

Teams start with initial 'seed capital'.  The 'seed capital' is in fact something cheap, like a box of rubber bands. Teams leverage their 'seed capital' (or not) along with their own skills and assets, to create value. In one contest, a student team generated $650 in 2 hours. Another team turned a box of post-it notes into a compelling video reminding students to save energy and unplug their electronics while away.

Global causes benefit with increased ideas and efforts focused on them, and increased awareness and education.

We'd have to find a way to judge entries and recognize the winners.

How does your concept celebrate, identify or inspire for-profit businesses that act as agents of world benefit?

Innovation is always a hot topic in business. Tournaments can help employees become more innovative and entrepreneurial, maybe more so than any employee training program could. Tournaments can also be used as a team-building exercises, or in PR, to help raise the brand image of the company sponsor. My guess is businesses would be motivated to participate for the training benefits alone. Past student teams have shown a longer-term interest in their projects. Hopefully this longer-term interest will also translate to the employees in our challenge. Employees could turn into internal champions of World Benefit, inspiring companies to include a World Benefit perspective in more and more of their decisions and actions.

How will your concept help us create or leverage stories of world benefit that are sticky and shareable?

The final tournament deliverable will be a video telling the stories behind the team's project and results. There could also be a most popular contest category, where people's Facebook friends vote on their favorite entries. Perhaps one of the prizes can be a professionally done video that employees and companies can use to tout their success and spread the word. We could also create a global forum for tournament participants to share ideas and get feedback from other participants. For example, if a US-based team is working on a cause in Indonesia, they might be able to ping an Indonesian team to get their feedback.

What will it take to scale your concept so that its reach is global and widespread?

The biggest cost will be employee time. However, compared with other training programs or team-building exercises, this tournament would be less costly to companies. Since the focus is innovating with minimal capital, companies are not expected to invest money for teams to use. The infrastructure for the tournament would be all online, so maintenance costs should be relatively low. The only other significant cost would be marketing - promoting the tournament and getting companies to commit employee time. Following the Stanford model, I wonder if working with Business Departments in local Universities would be a good way to get the message out.

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Nice one Reba! This is an exciting idea to think about and build out. As you mentioned, I'm curious to explore how judging and winner recognition would work.

Also, I'd love to hear your thoughts on the kinds of innovation challenges this tournament could tackle. Would companies that work in similar fields (for instance, healthcare) compete only against their peers in the industry? This would mean these teams would be working on business innovations for world benefit that their direct competition would see/have access to. Might we need to build in some security or protection of these innovations so that companies could participate without fear that their ideas could be used by their competitors? Maybe we'd actually want companies from non-related industries to compete in the tournament? Just doing a little thinking out loud :) I'm curious to hear what you think!

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Hi Ashley, Excellent points!
- Judging is a tough one. I can think of 3 options off the top of my head... (1) peer judges - competing teams rate one another's entries. (2) domain expert judges rate entries in their domains, according to a list of criteria that we'd have to define. (3) general public votes - this becomes more of a popularity contest, where those with the most social media influence win.

- So many possible ways to do winner recognition. Most of the suggestions on OpenIdeo pertain to recognizing the businesses. I think in addition to that, recognizing high scoring teams in front of their fellow colleagues would be motivating for the team members, and may also encourage future participation from other employees.

- Interesting nuance about what types of challenges each business can do. I had initially envisioned teams being judged according to the domain of their chosen project, not the industry of their employer - I imagined teams would choose topics outside their scope of business. However, thinking out loud as well.... if teams choose topics that are in line with the company's business, then we might get more impactful projects that companies are motivated to pursue longer term. But that brings up the issue of security and IP. Maybe it's possible not to divulge sensitive information during the tournament. The teams will be pretty independent, and are not required to interact during the challenge. They would really only divulge anything in their final report or presentation - at that time they could decide if it's a security issue or not. In any case, the tournament isn't about winning alone - teams will have learned a lot along the way, and if they come up with a valuable idea, they may be celebrated internally by their company.