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

38 Pages Posted: 13 Feb 2013 Last revised: 11 Apr 2022

See all articles by Joel O. Wooten

Joel O. Wooten

University of South Carolina - Department of Management Science

Karl T. Ulrich

The Wharton School

Date Written: May 11, 2017


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. What effect does entry visibility have on innovation contest performance? Knowing that participants adapt to different incentives and information, a key managerial challenge is how to best design and operate a tournament. 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 our experiments and additional observational data, we provide evidence that entry visibility influences the outcome of tournaments via three pathways: (1) changing who enters the contest, (2) changing how much they enter, and (3) changing what they enter. For the first, we show that entry visibility can attract lower-skilled designers. For the second, we show the entry visibility generates more entries by increasing the number of participants. For the third, 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 previously submitted by other contestants if that entry is visible, while moving in the opposite direction if it’s not. The variance in quality of entries also increases when entries are not visible, usually a desirable property of tournament submissions. This evidence suggests that the decisions around entry visibility result in very real differences in contest outcomes, giving innovation contest administrators another lever for managing innovation.

Keywords: innovation, tournament, contest, open innovation, crowdsourcing, visibility, blind, unblind, idea generation, brainstorming, learning, problem solving, creativity, ideation

JEL Classification: M1, M13, M30, O3, O31, O32

Suggested Citation

Wooten, Joel O. and Ulrich, Karl T., The Impact of Visibility in Innovation Tournaments: Evidence from Field Experiments (May 11, 2017). Available at SSRN: or

Joel O. Wooten (Contact Author)

University of South Carolina - Department of Management Science ( email )

United States

Karl T. Ulrich

The Wharton School ( email )

Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States

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