The Impact of Visibility in Innovation Tournaments: Evidence from Field Experiments

Joel Wooten, Assistant Professor of Management Science, University of South Carolina, and Karl Ulrich, Vice Dean of Innovation, The Wharton School

Abstract: Contests have a long history of driving innovation, and web-based information technology has opened up new possibilities for managing tournaments. One such possibility is the visibility of entries – some web-based platforms now allow participants to observe others’ submissions while the contest is live. Seeing other entries could broaden or limit idea exploration, redirect or anchor searches, or inspire or stifle creativity. Using a unique data set from a series of field experiments, we examine whether entry visibility helps or hurts innovation contest outcomes. Our eight contests resulted in 665 contest entries for which we have 11,380 quality ratings. Based on analysis of this data set, we provide evidence that entry visibility influences the outcome of tournaments via two pathways: (1) changing the likelihood of entry from an agent and (2) shifting the quality characteristics of entries. For the first, we show that entry visibility generates more entries by increasing the number of participants. For the second, we find the effect of entry visibility depends on the setting. Seeing other entries results in more similar submissions early in a contest. For single-entry participants, entry quality “ratchets up” with the best entry submitted by other contestants previously if that entry is visible, while moving in the opposite direction if it’s not. However, for participants who submit more than once, those with better prior submissions improve more when they cannot see the work of others. The variance in quality of entries also increases when entries are not visible, usually a desirable property of tournament submissions.

Read the full paper here.