Maybe you want to keep your brightest employees engaged. Or perhaps you want your organization to be an industry leader. Maybe you want to drive new ideas forward quickly. If you're considering running innovation challenges at your organization, these probably rank among the top results you're hoping to realize.

For the unfamiliar, an innovation challenge is a method of engaging a group of people to collaboratively address a problem or opportunity, whether that group consists of your employees, customers or other stakeholders. It’s a way of crowdsourcing ideas and solutions in a structured and repeatable way.

If you're new to the concept, you're probably wondering what innovation challenges can be used for. Here are 7 of the top reasons to regularly run your own challenges.

1. Gain insights from the best-informed individuals

For any given problem or opportunity, the people closest to it are naturally going to be the people who understand it best. Unfortunately, those people aren’t always the ones making strategic decisions about that problem or opportunity. In fact, they're rarely even asked for input.

Running a challenge gives decision-makers a direct line to the "boots on the ground," providing better, more up-to-date information to act upon. This may be the most significant benefit that an organization stands to realize from running a challenge.

2. Defend your position as an industry leader

Running challenges enables you to tap into your most valuable resources: the creative power of your employees, customers and partners. This provides valuable and relevant insight to help you make better decisions. Doing this regularly provides an edge on those competitors who still believe that only a few senior employees have the know-how to provide value when determining strategy, developing a new product or service, solving problems or any other business activity that can be targeted with a challenge.

3. Continuously improve business processes

You should not be satisfied by the status quo. Just because your business is doing well today doesn’t mean it will succeed in the future. Rather than settle, you can use challenges to continuously evolve your organization.

Challenges provide an opportunity to expose, document and improve your business systems. You can expose different members of your organization to the thoughts and processes of other teams for a fresh perspective, and uncover and document those procedural details that often exist in only a few employees' heads. With access to this central supply of data, you can constantly experiment with, tweak, refine and improve your business processes.

4. Uncover unknown unknowns

It's important for your organization to uncover existing problems, unseen opportunities and hidden threats. Running a challenge focused on rooting out these unknowns is a great way to help ensure you're moving forward. You might, for instance, uncover negative elements in your company culture or inefficient elements of your business processes that only exist because "we've always done it that way." You might also uncover emerging technologies or trends that could threaten or greatly improve elements of your business. Without deliberately working to uncover threats and opportunities like these, however, you'll never know whether they exist at all.

5. Cultivate employee ownership and engagement

One of the most difficult aspects of any initiative is generating the momentum necessary to get it off the ground and move it forward productively. With challenges, you can keep your employees engaged throughout an initiative, helping to promote visibility, trust and engagement. Rather than issue top-down directives, you can promote psychological ownership among employees to maintain momentum, drive initiatives forward and encourage buy-in.

Research shows that allowing individuals to contribute in a creative way helps generate a sense of psychological ownership and engagement, which can have far-reaching impacts throughout your organization. In fact, Gallup found that engaged employees are 17% more productive, 24% less likely to look for other employment and 21% more profitable. Using challenges to solicit creative contributions from your employees is a great way to build this sense of engagement.

6. Build institutional memory

Building your organization's institutional memory is a very impactful benefit of innovation challenges. In organizations without a centralized system for running challenges, there are oftentimes no record of people’s thoughts, what worked and why and no reliable way to recall the mistakes or winning strategies of the past.

Using a centralized platform to run challenges enables your teams to review, analyze and improve upon past approaches whenever a similar problem or opportunity arises. It also enables new teams or participants to get up to speed very quickly as to where a project is, why certain decisions were made and what should happen next.

7. Develop your employees’ entrepreneurial spirit

Nurturing a culture of entrepreneurship is a priority for many companies, but it can be challenging to know where to start. Regularly running challenges provides multiple opportunities to spark the entrepreneurial spirit in your employees. It increases the likelihood of striking a chord with your team members and provides motivated individuals with a clear first step to take.

If any of these 7 reasons to conduct innovation challenges resonated with you, then maybe you should consider taking your first steps as well.

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