While I use many innovative strategies to help companies accelerate, I’ve always liked the approach of running a contest.

When was the last time your organization ran a contest?

In January 2013 United Healthcare launched a contest to battle chronic illnesses. It was open to anyone, anywhere in the world, and the goal was to encourage the development of products that would help people live healthier lives and manage chronic conditions. They called it the “Breakthrough Health Tech Challenge.”  The grand prize was $60,000 to the winning healthcare innovator. And of course, United Healthcare got to determine who the winner was.

By running this contest, United Healthcare was essentially crowdsourcing, which involves outsourcing a task of some kind to a large group of people, using the vehicle of the Internet. Contests are great for that.

Many years ago I was working with a fast food company and suggested that they develop a contest to determine the best flavors for their new dips and chips they were putting out. So instead of trying to do it with scientists and with a few study groups, why not send out samples of each flavor to large groups of people around the country and have them go online to vote for their favorite? Those who picked the winning flavor would get a coupon—electronic, of course—so they could get a discount on the winning product.

Even though this particular contest didn’t offer a $60,000 prize, it still did some key things. It got hundreds of thousands of people:

1)    To discover their products

2)    To discover their other products

3)    To engage with their products.

4)    To get interested in their new products

5)    To learn different taste preferences from a wide variety of different socioeconomic groups who gave the company an evaluation on what was the best flavor.

There were many winners with this contest because anyone who picked the winning flavor got the coupon. What did that mean? A lot of people were going in to the stores to use their award coupon to buy the product and hopefully make repeat purchases.

For years, Toshiba has run a contest for innovative technology solutions. Many other companies have also done this. My question is, “Have you?”

Remember, a contest can be a coupon, it can be using frequent flyer miles to fly people to an interesting place, or it can be using the hotel rewards of the owner of a small or medium size company to give someone a relaxing weekend escape.

Whatever your prize is, the rewards to you are mutli-fold. You’re getting people engaged in your product. You’re getting help with generating innovative solutions, applications, software, and products. You’re gaining insight into your products. And equally important, you’re generating buzz about your product and getting new people to discover your brand.

So ask yourself if there is a contest you could run—a contest to spur innovation or a contest to solve a problem related to your business but that’s bigger than you or your business.

When you ask better questions, you get better answers. Try a contest.