Create Breakthrough Innovation the X Prize Way

Associations and nonprofits can borrow a great idea from the X Prize Foundation and use prize competitions to spur innovation wherever they may need breakthrough thinking.

Unlike the typical problem-solving route of committees, task forces and project teams, a prize competition casts a wider net for new ideas and approaches. Plus these competitions create a fun mix of competition and collaboration that members may find highly engaging.  

X Prize founder Peter Diamandis primarily aims his foundation at tough engineering challenges like commercial space flight, lunar landings and fuel efficient autos but the foundation is starting to apply its methodology to social challenges. X Prizes, underwritten by corporations and entrepreneurs, tend to offer more than $10 million to the winning team. But it’s the public awareness and bragging rights that make these challenges enticing and give them their great leverage.

The size of the X Prize should not deter associations and nonprofits. First, there’s no reason you couldn’t also secure a deep-pocketed underwriter. Second, you have all the tools you need to make the winning team your association’s latest hero through your website, meetings, publications and networks of influence.

That’s what we discovered when I assisted the American Industrial Hygiene Association in planning and staging a prize competition at the annual conference last June. We adapted the X Prize approach and invited teams to compete in two challenge areas in need of breakthrough thinking. All AIHA offered the winning team was the opportunity to send a representative to the next AIHA board retreat to pitch the winning innovation for fast-track consideration as a new signature initiative.

As AIHA discovered, prize competitions offer many benefits for associations. The members enjoyed learning and collaborating in a different kind of conference session. AIHA harvested lots of fresh thinking.  And AIHA demonstrated its openness to innovation.

Now AIHA Executive Director Peter O’Neil and I will be sharing how to use prize competitions to take on your social innovation challenges at the American Society of Association Executives Great Ideas Conference March 8 in Colorado Springs. We will explain how to create an opportunity statement, identify the focal areas for breakthrough and set guiding principles—basically the core of the X Prize methodology as well as how to manage important logistics like public relations, facilitation and judging.

In this brief video, I describe what we will be sharing in this session. If you are attending the Great Ideas Conference, consider joining us. If you aren’t attending and want to know more, just contact me,, and I’ll share a quick overview of what we are learning about this approach to innovation.