The QuickStart Guide to Winning at MindSumo
You are probably here because, like many people, you have asked me for advice on how to be better at winning MindSumo challenges. I have finally gotten around to putting together a guide for doing this.
For anyone who may have somehow stumbled across this accidentally, MindSumo is a crowdsourcing innovation website where companies post challenges and people can submit their solutions. The companies rate the solutions and depending on how you score and how many people enter, you can be awarded prize money.
I am the #1 ranked solver on the website, in challenges won, prize money won, and challenges entered.
Here is how I do it.
Think Beyond the Written Question(s) and Challenge Assumptions
Most MindSumo solvers are students and they are translating that experience with questions over to MindSumo. With schoolwork, particularly on tests, questions are comprehensive and written by someone who knows the correct answer. There is no expectation that your answer to address information not requested in the question and there is little room to challenge the question as an incorrect framing of the problem or just outright flawed in other ways.
On MindSumo, the people asking the question do not know the correct answer. That is why they are asking you and putting up a $1600 prize pool for solutions. Before they read the entries, they do not know what the best answer will be. There is no answer key as MindSumo is not an exam but instead an exploration., one where you are free to break free of the rules you might use for writing a test.
Some of my best entries have started out with something like “The questions asked do not address the real challenge”. If some question asked in the challenge does not make sense, feel free to state that in your solution as long as you include an explanation as to why. If you can successfully argue that one of the questions is flawed, you immediately put yourself above the other solutions based on that flawed information.
In one challenge, they asked for information on how to target a certain market. I argued that the target market was completely wrong and argued for a different market. In another challenge, I argued that the business model of the entire company is wrong and that they are asking the wrong question while spending most of the text suggesting a better business model.
I won both
Determine Their Motivation for Posting the Challenge
MindSumo challenges are not free, so the company decided that it was worth spending several thousand dollars asking the world that question. Why? Being able to answer that question goes a long way toward producing a winning entry.
For some companies, it is about a lack of domain expertise. They actually do not know a lot about the area they want solutions for. For others, it is just an alternative form of market research. They want to see how customers think. Most seem to want ideas for new products and services that they can offer customers.
You can identify their motivations by taking a look at the company as well as the questions that they are asking in the challenge itself. For example, this challenge is clearly partially market research because they are asking every participant to rank various preferences of theirs as part of a survey.
What solvers should do for this challenge is not only identify an ingredient, but also provide support for why that ingredient could be popular or why it is already popular.
Considering challenger motivations in that way lets you show why your answer is relevant to their needs and that helps you to earn a higher score.
Take Innovations from Elsewhere and Apply Them to the Challenge
If you already have an original idea then you can probably skip over this section, but many people get stuck on thinking of an idea. When I cannot think of a good idea, I take my inspiration from how a similar problem has been solved in another industry.
One of my solutions came when I was bored in class and decided to unscrew a ball-point pen. The challenge was to find a new solution for lubricating things and I used the ball-point concept as the core of my solution. I am sure everyone who entered the challenge and everyone who rated the challenge knew what a ball-point pen was and how it worked.
Your solutions do not need to be truly unique. They can just be well-known ideas applied in a unique way. That ball-point pen concept won 1st place in that challenge simply because it was such an easy solution that nobody had thought of using in that way.
Feel Free to Make a Wild Proposal. The Company Probably Knows the Obvious
Remember, the company paid MindSumo (and hopefully will be paying you) for this solution. That means they will have at least done a Google search to determine if their question can be answered that way. Anything obvious and hyper-realistic would have already been covered by the company internally.
You must provide something they have not seen to win
Write Clearly and Concisely and Use Illustrations
The average MindSumo challenge receives some 100-300 solutions. Each solution is roughly 300 words, which makes the total reading for each rater equivalent to a small or medium-sized book. I did rating when I worked at ATB Financial and it took days as we received over 400 entries.
With so many to read, entries that do not rapidly make clear what the idea is might get skimmed and given an average score. Entries that are hard to understand may be given an average score. The best entries can be basically understood within 15 seconds of skimming.
Keep Solving and Keep Trying
I entered my first two challenges about 7 months before I started doing MindSumo regularly and I lost both. I only ended up returning because I had a month of free time that I needed to use. Without that free time block, someone else would have been the #1 ranked MindSumo solver.
You probably will not win your first few challenges. That is ok as it takes time to really understand the platform.
Just keep on trying. You cannot win them all.