Wharton hosts a tournament to reward innovations!

Wharton School hosts tournament to reward innovations which help better human lives in some or the other way. The idea is proposed by Christian Terwiesch and Karl Ulrich and here is their interview explaining the idea.

Knowledge@Wharton: Your book is about innovation tournaments. A logical question to start with would be what exactly an innovation tournament is, and how can companies use such tournaments to identify exceptional opportunities?

Ulrich: A tournament is an organizational problem-solving process in which a large number of opportunities are identified and then systematically evaluated and filtered until only a few exceptional ones remain. A tournament, like its counterpart in sports, is one in which you have a large number of candidates who enter a competition, but only very few emerge as truly exceptional. The challenge is how to evaluate the candidates without going out of business, without spending a lot of resources.

Terwiesch: It’s like the TV show, American Idol. You start with many aspiring winners. You have a round of filters. And at the end, depending on whether you like their singing, you have some remarkable personalities left. That’s a powerful metaphor to think about tournaments.

In 2011 tournament there were some amazing innovations. Here is an explanation of the winners. For instance, there is something called human hair mat to treat oil spills:

Solutions didn’t necessarily have to be high tech, and the value of the innovation didn’t have to be monetary, Terwiesch pointed out. For example, in the sustainability category, the “Hair Twister” team from India proposed a mat filled with human hair to clean up oil spills. Unlike some chemical spill mats, hair mats would trap the oil without destroying it, the team said. The oil could then be harvested and the mat re-used again and again. The mats could also be used in farming to reduce the need for chemical fertilizers, since the hair was a natural product. Best of all, the product would cost very little in India because barbershops and temples (which sometimes collect human hair as offerings) would donate the hair for free.

Instead of coming up with a new technology, “the novelty was the match between the solution and the need,” Terwiesch said. “It was so novel and yet so simple.”.

They did not win. In Haiti, a mixture of NREGA and warehouse receipts:

A team from the Eastern Caribbean proposed an unusual way for Haiti to rebuild its economy without foreign aid or charitable donations — an innovation with social as well as economic value. Noting that 80% of Haitians are unemployed and that many of the problems plaguing the island nation demand solutions that are labor-intensive, the “Funding for Haiti” group proposed a mandatory national service program that would require every household to work four hours per week on projects such as planting trees, building roads or clearing earthquake rubble. Work projects would be administered by the government or approved charities, which would pay workers with community service receipts that could be freely earned, traded, bought or sold.

“The goal of the program would be to give anyone who wants a job a job,” noted presenter Russell Huntley. By mandating that every household submit receipts and levying fines on those who did not comply, the government would indirectly create a secondary market for work receipts. People employed in the private sector could legally meet their obligations by purchasing others’ receipts, pumping new money into the economy. Haiti’s 3.8 million unemployed could work to earn as many receipts as they wanted, and the economy would slowly grow as receipts were traded and projects reached completion.

The winners are:

  • Best new customer-centric innovation: L3, for a new video encryption technology.
  • Best new sustainability innovation: Welectricity, a social networking site that encourages energy savings
  • Best implemented customer-centric innovation: WiseWindow, for a data service that collects, sorts and displays customized business intelligence in real time
  • Best implemented sustainability innovation: Revolo, from KPIT Cummins, for a process that converts old automobiles into hybrids.
  • The GRAND PRIZE: EGG-energy, for their battery-swapping service in Tanzania.

All the innovations are an amazing read. There are youtube videos for each as well.

Welectricity is straight from the nudge book:

Household electricity use is a major source of carbon emissions around the world, and most consumers waste a lot of energy. But even though many households could save money by being more energy efficient, utilities often struggle to motivate their customers to scale back. Even well informed customers may not realize how much energy they are wasting because they don’t know what the benchmark should be.

The solution: Bring electricity consumers together on a social networking site that helps them track and compare energy use with friends and neighbors. “Consumers need motivation, not information,” said Herbert Samuel, founder of Welectricity, based in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Scientists have found four factors that, when combined, provide motivation for behavioral change: feedback, information, goal setting and social proof, or the ability to compare oneself to others. “Welectricity packages these four motivating nudges into a free easy-to-use social network that people all over the world are already using to track, compare and reduce their energy consumption,” Samuel noted.

Users log onto the site or connect from their Facebook accounts, enter basic information about location, house size, appliances and utility bills, and then connect to other people in the area. Users can see how their energy consumption compares to others, and have a forum to discuss the best ways to cut their bills. Ultimately, Samuel hopes to bring utility companies on board to make the process more automatic, and eventually plans to migrate to mobile devices. “The more people use it, the more powerful it becomes,” he said.

Superb stuff..

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