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On the virtues of creative challenges

On the virtues of creative challenges

Over the last few years, I have been asked by several clients to structure and organize creative competitions and challenges, in the fields of business startups, design and technology.


As part of the MosaiC HEC Montréal 2012 Summer School on management of creativity, we were even tasked with helping chef Gilles Larouche to put together a creative omelette contest, which resulted in the "Omelette Awards", an hour-long, twelve-team race to make the most out of a handful of eggs and random ingredients.


Studio 923a coverage of the 2012 edition

of the Creative Omelette Contest.


Such creative moments of intensity often generate surprising results, which as part of our competitive mindset, we like to reward with prizes and public recognition.


In many ways, such challenges are like playing the lottery. Though we like to think that the effort provided (often for free) is what determines the various types of incentives and awards, there is, from a macro perspective, a certain randomness to the process.


How the teams are constituted, what types of previous experiences they bring to the table, how well the team delivering the brief connects personally with the incumbents... all factors which will determine a team's ability to deliver quality value propositions at the end of the day. 



Lies, damn lies and statistics


A few months ago, we reviewed Ed Catmull's memoir Creativity Inc., in which Pixar's President explains how, when creativity comes lacking, the teams are asked to "trust the process". This is meant to provide an incentive to keep exploring, testing and validating hypotheses, build minimally viable products, acquire new knowledge and adopt a systematic approach to the project, even when the team becomes unable to view the end product creatively. 


The process becomes the focus. 


In fact, when well structured, creative competitions yield results that do not at all behave randomly from the point of view of the organizers. Suffice to look at the ever growing popularity of events like Startup Weekend or the internationalization of initiatives like Hacking Health to understand that the value of time-constrained creativity challenges lies in their sizeability and scalability; in their systematic approach rather than in any one specific startup or project stemming from them. 


For individuals partaking in such challenges, this may sound a bit odd. But despite the appearances, adopting a bird's eye view to competitive moments isn't at all cynical or insensitive. It is rather a recognition that such events (Startup Weekend has been held 1068 times, in 100 countries, yielding 8190 startups) contribute and stimulate our creative ecosystems more than any one successful example could.



The future is co-


In May 2014, f. & co partnered with Altitude C to propose the first edition of the Tata Communications Design Challenge, during which we asked designers with a vast array of talents to explore a complex issue, the future of collaboration.


Teams were structured to maximize the width of capabilities, so that the resulting propositions would be both entirely different, and unique from the point of view of their assumptions, hypotheses, projections and designs. Every project resulted in impressive creations, and a winning team was chosen. 


Isabelle Turcotte (VP Marketing, Communications & Strategy, Tata Communications)

& Francis Gosselin (cofounder, f. & co)

explain the Tata Communications Design Challenge at C2MTL


We learned a great deal from working with Altitude C and Tata Communications.


More recently, the City of Montreal asked us to work with them in order to identify potential solutions to make snow removal processes more "intelligent" from the point of view of citizens. Dozens of developers, several startups and a wide span of the city's creative universe responded positively to this opening. They helped the City a great lot in its understanding of the needs, the challenges and the opportunities stemming from snow removal generally and from the informational aspect specficially. 


Most importantly, both these projects stimulated numerous interactions between individuals. The process were documented and became part of the results. From one step, one phase, one project to the next, the methodologies and approaches were refined iteratively, so that, time after time, complex problems can be explored more systematically. Ideas which stem in a project whose end result may not be worthy of "winning" can be excellent nevertheless, and borrowed to improve another.


Clearly, the future is collaborative. Which is not to say that it will not be competitive. In game theory, some even speak of co-opetition. Schools, governments and companies have an opportunity in structuring and galvanizing communities by relying on creative competitions and challenges. There is efficiency in this duplication of creativity. That way, we can ensure that we build the best teams, the best applications and the best systems to deliver value. To grab a few ideas out of each, and make something grand out of them. 

Photo: Treehugger


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