Are external idea contests really unpopular and uneffective?


Robert G. Cooper's diagram on common ideation approaches


In the last issue of The Journal of Product Innovation Management, Robert G. Cooper, inventor of the Stage-Gate process for new product development, ranks 18 popular ideation approaches according to popularity and effectiveness. In his article called The Innovation Dilemma, it’s interesting to read that he says that “few of the open innovation methods were found to be either particularly popular or effective” before highlighting that “the fact that open innovation is relatively new and is yet to be proven over time“.  He also says that “seeking ideas from outside […] applies best to a handful of industries, such as consumer goods“…


On the very previous page, Cooper cites the Austrian jewelry company Swarowski as “perhaps the most sophisticated and effective front end on their innovation process“.  Swarovski has held a couple of external idea contests, as the presentation below shows. Cooper praises the great diversity of idea sources used by the company to feed their innovation process, as well as the rigourous screening process before “Gate 1 evaluation”.

What do you think? Have you read his article? Do you think his conclusion is biased by his experience? Does Open Innovation still have to prove its worth? I’d be glad to have readers’ opinion !


  1. Hello Yannig,

    Thank you for your input.
    Strange comment indeed from Mr Cooper to place External idea contest as not very effective : it is eliminating a very usefool tool in the open innovation toolbox!

    We nevertheless have to keep in mind that Mr cooper is the inventor of the Stage-gate process, which was primarly used in “closed innovation” models.
    Henry Chesbrough has since updated this methodology to “open” some areas in the Innovation pipeline.

    External idea contest works, and it is been used since centuries.
    Some obvious examples : even DARPA (american defense) and NASA are using external ideas to make progress on their most difficult problems.

    No company or organization can sustain alone such complex projects if they want to be cost-effective and get a good time to market.

    Of course, running an external idea campain is not that easy, but at least from what we could observe, it is giving good results for complex projects.


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