26 October 2007

Challenge results

UPDATE: They won!

Well, first-round results are in, and they aren't pretty. The bad news: both of my teams (search for "McGill") landed pretty short of the top 10. In both cases, we were at least partially victims of the evaluation methodology, which allows various judges to give give absolute grades without guidance. (So, for example, one of our judges for the Sustainable Innovation Summit gave us a score of 30-something/100, which seems bad, except that the highest grade he gave was 41/100. How to integrate those results with those of the judge who gave us 81/100? We were the judge's no. 2 choice in both cases....)

We also suffered from a certain confusion among the judges about what innovation actually means. For the Innovation Challenge, we had one judge comment that our idea of making a large retailer's catalog available from within a small concept store was extremely innovative, while another judge castigated us for not putting the small concept in its own special space within the large retailer ("that would have been really innovative"). It's tempting to believe that taking a kind of "average" definition of innovation will take off the rough edges, but it's really just a way to cut corners. Understandable when resources are limited and rough-and-ready solutions are preferable, but increasingly suspect for a competition that wants to become truly global in scope.
Man Thinking
An Innovation Challenge judge cogitates intensely.

I fully confess that there are plenty of sour grapes in my comments. I would note, in all fairness though, that I made the same complaints last year when we won.

An interesting observation which my wife made in our conversations about this year's results is that most commentary on innovation concerns process rather than product. There's plenty of information out there on innovation processes, but precious little on how to recognize a truly innovative idea if it hits you in the face. Lots on the how; not much on the what. I'm currently reflecting on this, and will post the fruits of my pondering later.

These disappointing results do have a silver lining, though. I've become pretty good friends with the captain of last year's 2nd place finishers from North Carolina. He's one of the most competent people I've met, he's good a great nose for great ideas, and he's hands-down the best presenter I've ever even heard of. He's in the finals this year, so at least I have someone to root for. Go UNC!