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Gladiator versus Barn Raising InnoCentive versus ESME style Innovation

With InnoCentive we have introduced a new way to innovate on SCN. At the same time and place SAP TechEd in Las Vegas, ESME was introduced that is built on a different innovation model. This blog is trying to look at the two models and what the consequences are if you choose one over the other.


Just to be clear, both innovation models have their advantages. Therefore depending on the problem at hand one should be selected over the other.

What I want to work out in this post is the nature of the collaboration that is derived from the two models. With that knowledge we then are able to make better decisions which way to go with our next problem.


The InnoCentive model is straight forward. There is a task that needs to be done or problem to be solved by a certain time. The task and it’s goal is described and a prize is set for the first one to reach it, or if more than one solves a problem, there is a selection process to determine the best solution.

This kind of innovation in my opinion works best, when there is a very specific goal with a clear definition when it is reached, as it was for the original X-Prize:


US$10,000,000 prize for the first non-government organization to launch a reusable manned spacecraft into space twice within two weeks.

Big upside potential of getting $10M and very clear criteria for everyone to see when the goal is reached.


Competition is an excellent motivating factor. Most games, for example the whole Olympics are based on that motivation. It is a winner takes world, I like to call it Gladiator Innovation.

Gladiator Scene

Picture from Wikipedia:Pollice Verso (“With a Turned Thumb”), an 1872 painting by Jean-Léon Gérôme, is a well known historical painter‘s researched conception of a gladiatorial combat.

No matter how many people worked on solutions and may have gotten very similar results, one is selected and the rest gets a rock like Charlie Brown at Halloween.

Let’s take for example the InnoCentive Video Challenge 2008. The one for 2009 just came out:


For this Challenge, InnoCentive seeks a marketing video to be used for the recruitment of new InnoCentive Seekers. This is the second annual InnoCentive marketing video Challenge with the goal of communicating InnoCentive’s mission, business model, and benefits. This video is targeted specifically toward the InnoCentive Seeker community. There will be two winning videos: one chosen by InnoCentive and the other selected by the InnoCentive Solver community. Both winning videos will be used in future marketing campaigns.



It looks like, but is not explicitly stated, whether the two winning videos have to share the $5000.


Let’s say I create a video that is compelling, is in the round of last 8 that are selected and shown on YouTube for people to vote on, but just doesn’t make the first place.

I would be a bit miffed, that after all my effort I got close, but didn’t get anything. My work is used to promote InnoCentive, as the video got watched over 1000 times during the competition run and continues to be on YouTube for everyone to enjoy. A fairer mechanism would be to give out smaller prizes already for the ones that make it to the final round.


Now let’s look at the approach for the ESME innovation. It’s the 21stcentury the elevator pitch is too long. Here is their Twitter pitch:

ESME in 140 characters

ESME is a secure and highly scalable microsharing platform that allows people to meet and discover one another in a business process context.


The ESME’s origin are described by Elizabeth Millard for the Baseline Magazine:

A few months ago, a handful of SAP Mentors were enjoying a casual conversation about application development on Plurk, a social networking site. The Mentors are in the company’s Community Network and are usually people who are prolific contributors to technical topics, but also have special expertise in defined areas, according to one Mentor, Dennis Howlett.

The chat turned into an idea that soon became a full-blown social networking project, called ESME (short for Enterprise Social Messaging Experiment), with an alpha release about 3 months later.


The collaboration practice is one of inclusion. People that like a idea and want it to happen join in, find out what is needed right now and do their part. I was involved in finding a NetWeaver hosting solution for them. I wish I had more time to be involved, but am following the emails closely and join a scrum call here and there.


This kind of collaborative innovation where everyone chips in to his or her own ability and time availability is similar to the old tradition of barn raising.

Barn Raising

Barn raising image:  Ian Adams (c)


As there is no money involved and usually no direct competition, it is relatively easy to call on others when the expertise in the group is not enough and they are happy to help out.

If I am not mistaken, for the Demo Jam at TechEd in Las Vegas, the connection to the event messenger within SAP NetWeaver was programmed the morning of the Jam with the help of Thomas Jung who isn’t in the core ESME team. 


How different would the collaboration have been, if ESME was started as an InnoCentive Challenge? There is actually one out there at the moment that is looking into the space from SAP:


Social Networking for Enterprise Applications
SAP is seeking ideas for novel uses of Social Networking to enhance business applications in corporate computing environments. Read more.


If you read the description of the challenge, it is about ideas and how to implement these in an enterprise environment. ESME team is actually developing the solution. The early stage of the project when ESME was starting and use-cases were written, it would have worked.

If I am innovating with the goal to win a competition, I am reluctant to reach out to anyone else, as they all could be competition, or want to get a slice from the pie. 

You want me to help you win this competition? What’s in it for me? That means, that it is unlikely, that an optimal solution is found for a complex problem. It was really amazing to experience how quickly solutions were found for obstacales in the way to the ESME solution: “I know someone who can help us out here”, and often the next day it was solved. z

The problem with an Barn Raising innovation is, that it has to be compelling enough for people to collaborate, for them to part with their precious free time. ESME is clearly riding the Twitter craze. If you are working on a problem like the municipal tax code in the US, you better have some chocolate or an InnoCentive challenge to motivate people to create a solution.

With the Gladiator Innovation you also get a clearer timeline, a better planning horizon. You set the deadline date for when the solutions have to be in. Over time we will know how likely solutions for a given problem are produced and you can plan accordingly. 

You can focus with your core team on the top 20% of customers and problems. If you have budget, the next problems that you otherwise wouldn’t get to, you can create challenges for and expand your throughput, or if interesting for a broader audience, ignite a community project. 

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