3 Design Principles Guiding Challenge Designs

In a previous post, we outlined a different operating model for disruptive experiments. This time we delve into the ‘what’ component – the way in which we intend to run challenges. There are three key differentiators:

  • Not defining only disruptive questions, also defining disruptive intent
  • Not centred on challenge prizes for ‘winners’, centred on market generating customers
  • Not creating another point-solution, co-creating an ecosystem of solutions

In the next five minutes, we will go through each of these in more detail:

1. Not defining only disruptive questions, also defining disruptive intent

Challenges, as an instrument to catalyze crowds, in order to drive innovation, are well established – ranging from the longitude prize, to the highly specific challenges on InnoCentive, to new product challenges such as Tata’s, “Wanted: A device that extracts a minimum of 2,000 litres of water per day from the atmosphere using 100% renewable energy”. More often than not these challenges are framed as technical or disruptive questions.

Disruptive questions are forward looking where they invite a whole host of unknown solutions. Yet, they do not present a view of the future, which means that too often we get novel solutions that lack any clear intent on what changes they will bring to the bigger picture.

Disruptive-intents are backwards looking. They put a stake in the ground and build a thesis on a future that’s 10+ years away. With a defined disruptive intent, it serves to make it easier to help decide which solutions will help realize this future.

For example, we could pose a disruptive question: How might we disrupt aviation? We should also define a disruptive intent: Fly anywhere in the world under an hour. Together, they make a powerful narrative of the ‘why’.

There are, at least, two lenses through which you can view disruptive intent:

Systems view:  Our existing systems – from health to education to the economy to government – are designed for centuries’ old problems. Problems have evolved, yet systems remain entrenched. To transform entrenched systems and models is a massive undertaking, or at least, something that has also been a centuries old endeavor, with little success. And yes, there are plenty of initiatives trying to do just this, chipping away through incremental changes.

Disruptive intents offer glimpses of the future. This future system will most likely sit alongside existing systems as alternative choices. They will not be mainstream choices, but through new value creation – by becoming living examples of what’s possible – we can start to accelerate the replacement of old systems. As we all know, it is much harder to work in the system and on the system simultaneously. Through disruptive intents, we are seeking to work solely on the system.

Relationships-view: There is no right answer in how to define disruptive, but one possible lens is through relationships’ – i.e. which solutions fundamentally change the relationships in any one ecosystem? If you look at Uber as an example it has essentially made our journeys “easier”, with – mostly – amazing user experience. But it’s not disruptive. It is still built on the same old relationships and systems i.e. I order a taxi (through an app instead of a phone call), a driver takes me to a destination, and I pay them.

A disruptive intent could be based on replacing taxi drivers with autonomous vehicles and making zero-ownership accessible the mainstream. Instead of requiring hundreds of thousands of vehicles where 99.6% of the time a typical vehicle remains unused, we would have a city which requires a few thousand cars in order to get majority of its population from A to B.

It is not about creating yet more products, services, or technologies as an end in itself. AI, Blockchain, the Internet of Things, as tools have tremendous potential, but if they only make existing services faster, cheaper, or easier and do not profoundly change the relationships in the systems for the better, their impact is minor at best, and not disruptive.

Disruption in highly fragmented industries, for example in the food industry, is less likely to be a big bang event. Even after framing a disruptive question you will need radically different solutions at each stage of the value chain, which when combined, lead to the disruptive intent.

Finally, a disruptive intent, will not just come out of a workshop, focus group or a research project. You cannot develop a view of the future, without working on the future. We have to produce a hypothesis on a disruptive intent, and simply begin co-creating it. Of course, as we forge ahead into the new, we will have to tweak, adjust and adapt.

2. Not centered on challenge prizes for ‘winners’, centered on market generating customers

As this report neatly summarises, we need to move on from design-thinking to systems-thinking when it comes to the execution of challenges -“…a core finding was that despite the fact that it (challenge based competitions) can produce high caliber, design-led innovations, some solutions had problems getting to a wider market…. A conclusion to draw from this is that problems are not the same as markets. Competition commissioners are often not the same as the end buyers of the solution and the social challenges or the public service problems that stimulated the brief in the first place do not necessarily equate to clear market opportunities.” This is also a problem facing most R&D, most x-labs, or horizon-three work.

It is for this reason, that we are not using prizes as a cornerstone of our value, but are instead intent on getting challenge sponsors to become market generation customers.

Why the distinction? For experimenters globally, getting access to funding (prizes, angel investing, etc.) is an output, not an outcome. Getting access to money is never going to be difficult, if, in theory, you have a good solution, a good team, and a healthy existing market. However, if the market doesn’t exist, it is infinitely harder. Therefore, we have made this one of the cornerstones of our programming, where challenge sponsors, act as early adopter, market generating customers. They also bring an ecosystem of other potential customers that help experimenters to expand beyond the first one or two customers, to say a first group of ten.

It is always decidedly more difficult to create new markets, than new products and services.  Competitions create ‘competition demand’, which is indispensable, but we must also actively create ‘market demand’.

3. Not creating another point-solution, co-creating an ecosystem of solutions

Of course, creating new markets cannot be established overnight. First there are a number of changes we need to make in the way we think:

  1. Challenges, as an intervention, is a starting point. We also need a whole series of interventions and instruments. These include, but not limited to, helping challenge-sponsors to create new roles, such as Head of Experimentation, Head of Co-creation – or new organizational structures, such as setting up x-labs, or new relationships across industries – with a view to cementing this work for decades.
  2. We need to support not just the top one per cent who have the most potential to answer the disruptive question and get to the disruptive intent – we also need to support the top 2-20%, who show great potential as individuals and teams but their experiments need fundamental changes. This is a people problem – finding high potential who dare to persist in bringing about a large-scale change.
  3. All of this has the objective of creating a self-sustaining ecosystem, which at any one-point is comprised of thousands of searchups, hundreds of startups, tens of scaleups, and a small army of stakeholders, from governments to corporations, who are co-creating to deliver on disruptive questions intents through experiments.

About AREA 2071

AREA 2071 is an ecosystem to design the future that includes government, creative individuals, innovative companies, and people from all walks of life.

Together, this community imagines and creates solutions to the world’s most pressing questions, especially those posed by new technologies and disruptions to society. To design a future that benefits humanity, we need to challenge existing assumptions and create fresh social and economic models. That’s what AREA 2071 is designed to do.

AREA 2071 was launched in 22 May 2017 by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates and Ruler of Dubai to become the experimental nucleus of a new model extending across the UAE to shape its future, while giving hope to the MENA region and the world.

The name AREA 2071 originates from the UAE Centennial Plan 2071, the naming of which signifies 100 years since the formation of the United Arab Emirates. Through its vision and objectives, UAE Centennial Plan 2071 seeks to invest primarily in youth and to work for UAE to be the best nation in the world by 2071.