As you read this, challenge contestants are crossing the April 9th finish line. From a starting field of 18 ambitious – even crazy, bets, 11 have gone the distance. Tonight, after a year of friendly, sometimes fractious collaboration, the first round of challenge bets will either pay off, or come up short.

But the kicker is, no matter a bet wins gold, or raspberries for “Prix Persévérance,” every person actively collaborating, be they high-flying CEO table Captain, or soft-spoken Ethereum app engineer, has already received something extraordinary: a powerful recipe.

Joy of cooking

There’s no absolute recipe per se for innovation, else every country in the world would be as prosperous as Switzerland. But given the premise, “innovation is executing new ideas to create value” (Tim Kastelle, Tobias Pforr & others), the women, men, and the bets they executed, are living proof the challenge recipe for innovation works.

If you want to experience this joy of cooking, but missed out joining the first challenge, heads up! A new round of bets is beginning, open to anyone with a desire to learn, by doing, the true nature of innovation.

Impatient to start cooking?

CLICK HERE to go directly to open challenge

Until now, hard facts what’s coming after April 9 have been scarce. Bets with 2-year time horizons, like e-Health or Smart Station, obviously will continue building/scaling solutions. Yet having witnessed the challenge recipe in action, I’ve made no secret my desire to see this challenge not only continue – but expand exponentially.

Which made it especially gratifying when Stefan Schöbi, challenge Steering Committee Chair, invited me to his 3rd floor Engagement Migros office to talk about the new open challenge, and what’s in it for you and me.

Bottom-up evolution

He greeted me at the door, a bundle of folders in one arm and a ripe pineapple in the other. “Our team meeting is starting right after us,” Stefan remarked, as though that explained the odd mix of analogue paper and tropical fruit. He hustled us into a conference room and launched into how the “old” (challenge) is evolving into the “new” (open challenge).

“In the first challenge, we asked for big challenges from the big corporates. In the second challenge, we’re opening up, making it a bottom-up process.” Stefan equates fostering innovation to creating a great new meal, “You have to find the ingredients. But a meal is not made from just one ingredient; it’s the mixture, the processing … innovation is all about the composition of cooking. Our open challenge is like creating an open kitchen, where everyone can join us.”

Detour conflict of interest

Stefan has learned, “if you start with the corporates, you will always get corporate ‘recipes,’ for what people are good at doing.” He cautions, “But you won’t get new recipes, new answers, new ways. This (open challenge) is a way to bring those people together in a different setting, which is not their corporate housing … more like a cooking course.”

To look at it from another angle, Stefan and the challenge steering committee have designed a detour around self-interest – one of the obstacles of big corporate participation. By crowdsourcing new issues, the open challenge eliminates employer/employee conflicts of interest both upstream (ideas), and downstream (resources required to execute). The detour allows big corporates to continue innovating on their own, but creates opportunities for talented people to step out of their corporate silos and join an open challenge bet.

Juicy interruption

As people began streaming into our conference room, Stefan concluded with a final appeal. “I’d like more people to join our open challenge. We need lots of different skills, lots of different mindsets. We need people bringing different perspectives to our test kitchen. You’re going to learn …”

His sentence was interrupted by his team bearing the former virgin pineapple, now transformed into a platter of ready-to-eat juicy bites. He began laughing and said, “Help yourself! We’ve talked about cooking all this time, now here’s our meal!”

Converting the faithful

A while later, I gained access to the open challenge crowdsourcing platform by invitation of Adrian Gerber, CEO of innovation consultants, ATIZO 360 GmbH. As platform administrators, they invited 460 people, of whom 25% converted into active users. For comparison, Adrian cited an unnamed Swiss gear brand they helped crowdsource development of an avalanche airbag. “We recruited appx. 500 applications, pre-selecting 120 experts. Our client chose 30 for an ‘Open Innovation’ phase, resulting in 31 concept/ideas.”

Guillaume Gabus, challenge project manager, confirmed active open challenge users have proposed 70 unique ideas. By the time I logged in, the “match-making” phase was already in progress. Connecting the right people remains largely a manual process, but helps explain why digitalswitzerland has attracted 100 members since inception in 2015.

Network effect

Having little experience with online dating, but high regard for Swiss “Vitamin B,” I called Nicolas Bürer, Managing Director digitalswitzerland, for more insight. An entrepreneur himself, (DeinDeal, MOVU, etc.), Nicolas identifies closely with users the open challenge is attracting. He explained, “The benefit for me joining is being passionate about a topic and through this collaborative approach, you can bring it to life.”

On the importance of match-making, Nicolas advised, “Peter Thiel (PayPal, Palantir, etc.) is always saying a key factor for success is the network effect … the multiplier effect. This is where we can help. We connect the dots and we multiply. This is the advantage for anyone working with digitalswitzerland rather than doing a project on their own. You are part of a network effect, they multiply and speed up execution.”

Smart minds and sexy ideas

Nicolas’s comment reminded me of a FinTech expert I met at Swisscom, Roland Cortivo, when researching the C-Shares bet story. More recently, Roland explained why he submitted a new idea/bet (sustainability topic) for open challenge. “From a personal perspective, it’s to grow my personal and business network … but also give something back. I think our country will only stay on top if you keep pushing innovation forward. It needs smart minds. It needs sexy – crazy ideas. Even if you work in a company like Swisscom, or a bank or so, this gives you the opportunity to live your entrepreneurial ambitions.”

That last point gets me excited for people who may follow Roland’s example. In March, I facilitated purpose-driven story workshops for 12 start-up teams in START Accelerator. Their astonishing energy and blind passion to execute an idea isn’t only a consequence of their youth. It’s because they’ve gone beyond talking about entrepreneurial dreams – they’re living them.

Do you believe?

Before saying Au revoir, I asked Nicholas if new or existing challenge bets require CEOs participation? He asked to be quoted, and said forcefully, “No! we don’t want only CEO’s. We want leaders! We want leaders who have time and passion and are pushing the topic. It can be a CEO or it doesn’t have to be a CEO. We need the ones who really have passion and belief in what they’re doing!”

CLICK HERE  join the open challenge