What Does Staples Really Think About Invention Quest?

There's an inventor inside everyone of us. I don't know of a single person that hasn't had at least one great idea. Ever wonder whether you should enter into the Staples Invention Quest contest with that great idea?

Our Guest Blogger, Tim Whitney, is a bit of a contest nut. He's the National Grand Prize Winner of the KeyCite Key to Good Law Contest, and a national finalist in both the 2005 Staples Invention Quest and Digital Innovations Design-Originality-Creativity Awards. His background in law, marketing and design helps him bring a critical and analytical eye to the inner workings of these contests in an effort to advise and inform entrants and help them make the most of these and other opportunities to promote their ideas. Tim gives us some of his thoughts about the Staples Invention Quest contest.

Here's his article:


Staples Invention QuestStaples Invention QuestFor as much fun as I had making it to the finals of the 2005 Staples Invention Quest (IQ), there was always an undercurrent of corporate agenda that made some of us finalists wonder if we were being naïve about Staples' true intentions for the contest. With some of those elements intact for the 2006 version of IQ, I think it merits some discussion so the naivete isn't passed to a new generation of entrants.


1. Kids version of the contest.

This is a new addition, and I think it's a great way to tap into and encourage the creativity only a child can have. But I can't imagine an 8-year-old going through the press "training" we went through as finalists, or understanding the rapid shift from poster child to arms-length negotiation post-contest. Staples is going after the back-to-school market,plain and simple. The last two IQ winners were student-focused, not office-focused, so I guess it makes sense for them to tap into the student consumer mindset.

2. No permanent link from staples.com to IQ.

This happened last year too, and always had us wondering if IQ was the red-headed stepchild of Staples. I don't understand this at all. If you want quality entries, why wouldn't you tap into your existing customer base? And why wouldn't you promote it (for free, no less) on a site that thousands of people visit each day? Maybe I'm reading too much into the corporate intentions here. However, the lack of public web links really came into play last year with...

3. Online

I love the idea of democratization, but the online voting worked abysmally last year. The product descriptions were incredibly weak (to prevent intellectual property theft), plus it was up for two weeks and broken the entire first week. With no promotion anywhere, including staples.com, it basically came down to who could get more friends and coworkers past the frustration of the first week to vote. And despite the fact that the rules say that the online voting has an impact on the outcome, there was no evidence of that in the 2005 contest. This online voting is a bad idea, and I hope they do a better job implementing it this year. This is the stuff on which lawsuits are built. Too much at stake to be so cavalier about it. Every contest does NOT have to be American Idol!

4. Semifinalist video submission.

Last year Staples brought all the semifinalists out to Staples Head Quarters to present their idea to a group of sales, marketing and product development people. This year, the semifinalists submit video presentations. While I do think this allows the inventor's creativity to show through, the live presentation involved the people at Staples who actually make product development happen in the real world (as opposed to Kendra from The Apprentice, who was one of our guest final "judges"). So...they take away the practical and critical analysis and discussion in favor of something that relies heavily on the personality of the semifinalist. Hmmm...a strategy for the benefit of the semifinalist or for the overall promotability of the contest?

Ultimately, I think it comes down to a debate over which is "better": (a) an invention contest that truly awards innovation, but the winner still has little chance of getting their product made, or (b) an invention contest where the winner does get their product made, but the thinly-veiled corporate agenda pervades the contest process. Either way, it's important to go into a contest with the right expectations.

Tim Whitney
Guest Blogger