Competition and collaboration: Insights from Osram’s Design Contests

A prize-winning paper reports on a community-based design contest which invited contributions from nearly 1000 designers and engineers around the world.

Collaborative innovation has become an important approach to release the creative potential of individuals which has benefitted from advances in social media and its technological platforms.

One such project won the best paper award for 2012, for the journal Creativity and Innovation Management, awarded at journal’s annual community workshop in Berlin [28-29th June, 2012]. The members of the research team were Katja Hutter, Julia Hautz, Johann Fuller, Julia Mueller and Kurt Matzler, Professors at the Innsbruck University School of Management and of the University of Halle.

‘Emotionalize Your Light’

The ideas contest may be seen as a latter-day version of suggestion schemes of the past. But this is only at a superficial level. Formal suggestion schemes were found to have success when embedded in a corporate set of values, for example in the early decades of the quality and continuous improvement movements. Employees in companies such as Toyota generated vast numbers of ideas which cumalatively contributed to process and produce excellence.

The immediately obvious difference in the Osram project is the creation of a global community which becomes involved the idea generation and in the evaluation/implementation stages. The process is particularly suited for its virtual form, with technologically appropriate platforms.

The research findings

You can read the research findings in the article entitled Communitition: The Tension between Competition and Collaboration in Community-Based Design Contests. [CIM 20,1, 2011].

The study addresses a dilemma identified as the potential conflict between competition and collaboration. There is an unreflective and widely-held view that competition lies at the heart of business success. This view is partly nibbled-away at by game theory and the famous ‘prisoner’s dilemma’ which suggests that unbridled selfishness is far from the most effective strategy. Unfortunately, unbridled altruism is also too open to exploitative strategies.

Earlier workers in this fascinating branch of organizational theory coined various terms for hybridised approaches, such as co-opitition. [I seem to remember one of Edward De Bono’s books examined the theme as a kind of thinking combined competition and collaboration.]

These are my labels which help me understand the behaviours proposed by the authors:

Style 1 Competitive
Style 2 Cooperative
Style 3 Both [this is the integrative style labelled communitition].
Style 4 Neither

Style 3 is the new and signficant hybrid style proposed by the researchers. However, style 4 is not without interest. I like the evidence of community members who are not primarily collaborative nor competitive. These may be people who are observers who join a community for the purposes of learning, or perhaps potentially active contributors who never overcome fears of looking foolish.
While it was possible that someone may exhibit different styles over time, the evidence suggested that the styles were stable. In the situation of the context, participants seem to display a favoured style. This in itself is a valuable research finding, suggesting opportunities for developing research-based approaches for improving a community’s innovation processes. It may well be, that the different styles will call for different means of encouraging effective participation.
The authors recognise the need for studies of a wider range of such idea contents. However, they have made a valuable contribution in a currently hot are of innovation research. Other important questions include the manner in which leadership plays out in community-based activities.

4 Responses to Competition and collaboration: Insights from Osram’s Design Contests

  1. Nathan says:


    I beg to disagree on this portion :-
    “However, style 4 is not without interest. I like the evidence of community members who are not primarily collaborative nor competitive”
    How do you find them interesting while they’re in style 4? It seems to me, they’re more interesting once they’ve turned into members of style 1, 2 or 3.
    Your thoughts?

    Somewhat of an Observer who HAVEN’t overcome fears of looking foolish.

  2. Thanks Nathan

    I suppose my interest was aroused by speculating that in the [new style] virtual social networks, there may be silent participants who may participate eventually, or represent some other grouping altogether.

    In ‘old style’ groups silent members could be non-participant observers, or the reluctant ones.

    Best wishes


  3. Nathan says:

    Hi Tudor,

    Thanks for the reply. It does paint a clearer picture on the reason behind your interest.


  4. And see the next post for another relevant example: the Tour de France….

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