The Innovation Tournament Handbook: a step-by-step guide to finding exceptional solutions to any challenge - Business Leader News

The Innovation Tournament Handbook: a step-by-step guide to finding exceptional solutions to any challenge

“Accessible and fast-reading, Christian Terwiesch and Karl Ulrich’s new book is filled with stories of organisations that have run innovation tournaments that have generated game-changing successes.” – Eurie Kim, Managing Partner, Forerunner Ventures

Christian Terwiesch and Karl Ulrich are Professors at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. An expert in management and innovation management, Terwiesch is featured in many academic journals, using his career’s work of research, he uses this informed narrative to contribute as co-author of this book.

Ulrich, on the other hand, is an expert in mechanical engineering, and with the combined work of engineering and management, The Innovation Tournament Handbook is a key text best used for business leaders and entrepreneurs looking to adapt and challenge their leadership skills when approaching difficult situations.

This book aims to guide entrepreneurs into more critical and adaptive thinking to better their financial outcomes and product turnover. With a key theme of framing challenges as ‘solution and need’, Terwiesch and Ulrich offer engaging and actionable guides to help learn ‘how to frame and articulate your specific innovation challenge’, ‘how to select the very best ideas’, and many more.

Here is an extract from The Innovation Tournament Handbook: a step-by-step guide to finding exceptional solutions to any challenge by Christian Terwiesh and Karl Ulrich.

Y Combinator is a Silicon Valley accelerator of new ventures. Its alumni include Airbnb, DoorDash, Coinbase, Dropbox, and Stripe—which have a combined value of more than $100bn. How can Y Combinator be so good or so lucky or both? Y Combinator, or YC for short, is good . . . and lucky. But focusing only on its biggest successes overlooks some other remarkable figures.

Over its nearly 20-year life, YC has received tens of thousands of applications from aspiring entrepreneurs, and it has bet on and nurtured more than 3,000 companies. With apologies to the great people who run it, YC is a machine that pulls in ideas and pumps out startups. At the heart of this machine is a process that we refer to as an innovation tournament.

Just like sporting tournaments, innovation tournaments seek to identify a clear winner from a multitude of competitors. In sport, players or teams compete until a winner is crowned champion. In business, an innovation tournament convenes opportunities for creating value. These opportunities might be ideas for new products, approaches to process improvement, names for a new venture, or candidates for entirely new lines of business. And they can originate from individuals, teams, or organizations.

How do innovation tournaments work?

They typically consist of multiple rounds of competition, beginning with a large set of raw opportunities and ending with a stellar few. The first round of elimination, when the pool of candidates is large, must be quick and efficient. Later rounds, when numbers are smaller, warrant more in-depth evaluation.

For example, the YC innovation tournaments begin with applications from a huge pool of fledgling ventures. The first round is based on the subjective judgments of a panel of YC staffers. The next round includes live interviews with founding teams. Those teams accepted to the YC cohort receive capital and coaching and over the next several months strive to develop their businesses. Investors then view teams’ presentations on pitch day and evaluate whether teams show promise; some teams succeed in raising the cash they need to fuel further commercialization.

Eventually, outcomes are realised in the marketplace. This multi-round process winnows thousands of applicants down to several exceptional companies. For YC, the resulting successes, like Airbnb and Dropbox, deliver payoffs large enough to easily offset the investments made in companies that fail to thrive.

Innovation tournaments can be public competitions, or they can play out within the walls of a single organization. Like Wimbledon or the Ryder Cup, they can be contests among people in public forums. When a fire devastated part of the Notre Dame Cathedral in 2019, Paris convened an open competition to find a design solution. Back in 2012, the Gates Foundation invited the world to “reinvent the toilet.” The California Institute of Technology scooped that prize with a solar-powered device that netted it $100,000 in prize money.

In reality, however, most innovation tournaments happen within organizations. Take the first successful COVID-19 vaccine. BioNTech is a biotechnology company based in Mainz, Germany. When its founder and CEO, Ugur Sahin, grasped the threat that the coronavirus posed to humanity in early 2020, he quickly sensed that the messenger RNA (mRNA) platform he’d developed with his wife, Ozlem Tureci, to fight cancer might also hold the key to a COVID-19 vaccine.

BioNTech conducted an innovation tournament within the organization to simultaneously evaluate the potential of 20 vaccine candidates, of which just a handful advanced to development. One—BNT162b2 to be exact—was ultimately sent to market. Not only has the vaccine probably saved millions of lives, but it has also ensured the company’s financial future.

Earning billions, saving millions. Such a gargantuan win is hard to imagine. But innovation tournaments can be applied to all manner of situations with all manner of outcomes.

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