The Innovation Tournament

By Julia Berry

Karl Ulrich, Vice Dean of Innovation and the CIBC Professor of Entrepreneurship and e-Commerce at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, engaged PLLIP Summit attendees in innovation tournament.  Defining innovation as a new match between a solution and a need, he provided examples of innovations, some beneficial and others not.  Innovations can run the gamut of matching existing solutions to existing needs in a novel way or pairing a new need with a new solution.

An innovation tournament involves gathering a broad range of potential solutions to a broadly-defined need, winnowing the ideas down through discussions and presentations over time to determine which are the more valuable, and ultimately proclaiming a winner.  Ulrich’s definition of value consisted of whether the need was real, whether the solution met the need, and whether the customer was willing to pay more for it than its delivery cost.  He illustrated how ideas that appear most promising at the start of an innovation tournament can lose popularity over time as there is further reflection on them while those that were not favored at first can rise to the top.  Therefore, analyzing whether an idea is valuable should be done less rigorously at the beginning of a tournament.  He emphasized that a broad variety of proposals should be considered because one would rather find one outstanding idea than ten pretty good ones.  Ulrich explained that in a tournament at Wharton, one individual offered six out of the ten contest finalists.  Naturally good idea generators and high performers such as this should be encouraged to participate in a tournament.

Participants at the Summit were challenged to respond to the question, “What deliverables can librarians provide to strengthen their firm’s relationship with current or prospective clients?”   Working first independently and then in small groups, they generated responses to this question, then winnowed the options down to a single concept for each group, which they then captured on posters and presented to the audience.  They were directed to create a catchy title, text of their solution, a few bullet points, and an illustration if it would be beneficial.

Interestingly, many of the groups offered similarly-themed proposals, which Ulrich noted was an anomaly in his work.  The most common themes were:

  • New matter research kick-off – Having the library start compiling research as soon as a new matter of a certain threshold value comes in, including conducting background research, creating alerts, and starting a process mapping flowchart.
  • Client concierge – Offering clients direct communications with firm librarians.
  • Client research dashboard – Creating new types of extranets.
  • Proactive, contextual alerts – Going beyond new case filings, these alerts comb news to anticipate litigation and provide attorneys with a better understanding of their clients’ businesses.
  • Industry intelligence briefing – Researching threats, opportunities, and regulatory developments for clients.

View pictures of the posters on Flickr.

After the presentations, participants voted for their favorite concepts by affixing stickers to the posters.  We have linked to images of each of the proposals offered, clustering the similar ones as Professor Ulrich did.  You can see that both unique and commonly repeated ideas garnered a substantial number of votes.  We hope the innovation tournament has offered the opportunity for attendees to suggest changes at their firms and that other PLLIP members can now use the ideas suggested here to do the same.

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