What’s your Point of View on Challenge Driven Innovation?

Challenge Driven Innovation (CDI) is an innovation framework developed by InnoCentive that accelerates traditional innovation outcomes by leveraging open innovation and crowd sourcing along with defined methodology, process, and tools to help organizations develop and implement actionable solutions to their key problems, opportunities, and challenges. We asked Dr. Frank Ermark, working with innovation portfolio management at Nokia Mobile Phones about his point of view on CDI.

-  For many companies the lack of ideas as such is not the main obstacle to ignite successful innovation, it is rather the opposite, especially when using open innovation or crowdsourcing approaches. In this context Challenge Driven Innovation (CDI) is an appropriate tool to channel the creativity of individuals, teams or “the crowd” towards a dedicated goal, from solving a tricky technical problem to new opportunities in the framework of the corporate strategy.

- Successful innovation lives from a combined bottom-up, ideation, and top-down, sponsoring and steering, approach and CDI is an ideal framework to implement and practice this recipe. Used on business unit or entity level, it provides management a channel to communicate key elements of the company strategy for which they are actively searching ideas and new opportunities in order to make the strategy defensible and differentiating.

-  For the employees it gives not only a signal, but concrete evidence that management is serious about innovation, as they explicitly ask individuals and teams to contribute to a relevant and concrete topic.

- In order to be successful CDI campaigns need to be sponsored by executive management, be well prepared and facilitated, then it also fosters communication across organizational borders around the specified topic, which is already a value as such.

- Having said that it is not only important to assess the ideas, but also to analyze the social communication happening during the challenge to see how the theme of the challenge, especially if it is about the company strategy, is “interpreted” and discussed. This gives a valuable indicator for the “consistency of understanding and buy-in” across the organization.

- Considering all these aspects, CDI is not just another tool for “ideation”, but also a way to create or strengthen a culture of innovation and foster communication.

Have you used it?

We used CDI in Nokia on different scales with different reach; from business unit level, global R&D level down to much more targeted challenges at one site. The effort for preparing, facilitating and finally harvesting scales naturally according to the scope of the challenge. Thus, we run local challenges quite frequently, about every 1-2 months, whereas the global ones occur only occasionally. Global campaigns are typically addressing elements of our business unit strategy. Here one important purpose is to involve different parts of the organization, like sales, marketing, R&D and supply chain teams from different regions across the globe in order to get diversity in the thinking and networking for the challenge.

What were the pros and cons?

Based on my own experience, I’d summarize the pros and cons as follows:


  • Linking creativity to a specific opportunity to get more relevant results,
  • Framework and concrete cases to implement and live a culture of innovation,
  • Enforces the combination of a top down with a bottom up approach to innovation.

Cons, or at least “watch-out” points:

  • Higher expectations from the creative minds for their ideas to get implemented, as they explicitly have been asked for, so a careful management of expectation is needed as well as sensible communication when presenting the “winning ideas”,
  • Before initiating a new challenge, cross-check the existing “idea pool” to avoid disappointment on innovator and management side, if nothing “really new” is found,
  • Don´t expect disruptive ideas, they are more likely to come up outside any ideation tools or processes, but in an environment with a strong innovation culture.

Dr. Frank Ermark, Nokia Mobile Phones

What is Challenge Driven Innovation?

Challenge Driven Innovation (CDI) is an innovation framework developed by InnoCentive that accelerates traditional innovation outcomes by leveraging open innovation and crowd sourcing along with defined methodology, process, and tools to help organizations develop and implement actionable solutions to their key problems, opportunities, and challenges. In CDI, a portion of the innovation is formulated as a challenge, in which a “challenge” essentially represents the problem statement for a block. In contrast to ideas, which are often unstructured and loosely defined, challenges are specific, detailed, and actionable problems or opportunities.

Source: How to Accelerate Innovation through Challenge Driven Innovation by Steve Bonadio.

About Frank Ermark

During the last years I was responsible for the innovation portfolio management within our business unit. I was leading a cross-functional, global team, overseeing the innovation funnel from early innovation strategy definition, ideation campaigns up to defining and running prototyping projects.

I’m passionate about innovation, in the broadest sense, from product, software, business to new organizational designs, always balancing the technology, business and consumers angle.

The majority of my 15+ years professional career, I have spent in the front end work, creating new product concepts as well as driving operational and strategic technology management. My focus is always to combine strategic thinking with a strong path for execution in order to deliver real business value.

  • http://www.facebook.com/paul.sloane1 Paul Sloane

    Good article.  A well defined challenge is key for successful open innovation or crowdsourcing.

  • Daniel Creigh

    Many organisations dipping their toe into the crowdsourcing for Innovation sea start with Challenges as they are easier to control and manage the stakeholders involved. 

    Overtime this can be moved onto a more perpetual ideation platform that is more open to all areas of the business.

  • Yousuf

    Excellent article. I came across that public sector/ governments are utilizing CDI however I would like to know if there are any actual examples.

  • http://yannigroth.wordpress.com/ Yannig

    Great post, Dr. Ermark, thanks for sharing these insights. It’s interesting to see that the Pros & Cons are similar to those observed for crowdsourcing in general. We worked with Nokia at eYeka, a platform where creative participate in co-creation contests, and it’s been a great experience. I wrote about Nokia’s co-creative engagement in a recent blog http://yannigroth.wordpress.com/2012/01/18/one-brand-different-platforms-part-8-nokias-wise-approach-to-crowdsourcing/ I’d love to have your thoughts!

  • Tomislav Buljubasic

    Thanks for sharing. Agree, challenges are essential in getting success from innovation initiatives.

  • Frank Ermark

    Your post describes quite well our various initiatives towards co-creation/crowdsourcing, … so getting in touch with our customers, developers, opinion leaders, … in order to create and shape the future together. Not only for Nokia, but for most industries and companies this is just the start of a journey with lots of learning what works and what doesn´t, so I´m convinced this is the right path and it will be exciting to see the evolution and flavours of co-creation in the future.
    BTW: We opened another channel, encouraging inventors to work with Nokia http://inventwithnokia.nokia.com/Home

  • Jim McPiss

    I’m sorry but, he says, and I quote “The majority of my 15+ years professional career”… So, did he start working at… 50???
    Man, I work since I was 16… 

  • Jim McPiss

    Look at his photo… do you see the teeth? the fang on his right side… watch out for Buffy… Twilight!!!

  • Geoff Carss

    To build on the Pro’s and Con’s Frank quite rightly made – to get great ideas you need to frame powerful questions/challenges – we see up to 30 times the value (as translated into $) from asking a series of powerful questions than asking high level simpler ones. Its also really important to engage the tail – the occasional participants. Our research shows that regular contributors ideas, per idea, are as valid as occasional contributors, but as the occasional contributors make up 80%+ of the volume its really important to consider them as well.

  • http://yannigroth.wordpress.com/ Yannig

    Hi Geoff, do you have any document or paper presenting your findings?

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  • Vinay Dabholkar

    Paul, What would be the key characteristics of a well defined challenge?