Current Issue
This Month's Print Issue

Follow Fast Company

We’ll come to you.

2 minute read

Tough Mudder Wants Fans To Design Its Next Terrifying Obstacle

Just no bugs, okay?

  • 01 /15
  • 02 /15
  • 03 /15
  • 04 /15
  • 05 /15
  • 06 /15
  • 07 /15
  • 08 /15
  • 09 /15
  • 10 /15
  • 11 /15
  • 12 /15
  • 13 /15
  • 14 /15
  • 15 /15

Freezing water. Electricity. Barbed wire. Exhaustion. Tough Mudder has built what's estimated to be a $70 million to $100 million business by leveraging your "fear of death" across their tortuous course.

Now, in a Stockholm Syndrome-ish twist, the company wants fans to design its next trademark obstacle.

Today through July 20, the company is inviting anyone to submit a short description and sketch of their dream obstacle. Participants will rack up votes via social media, and 10 finalists will be chosen by the wisdom of the Internet. A panel of experts will determine the winner to become, in some incarnation, part of the 2017 Tough Mudder course—which will be updated as it is every season with a collection of old and new obstacles.

"From my side, it’s something we’ve done from the past five years, informally, from talking to participants on the ground and hearing their ideas on-site," says Nolan Kombol, senior director of product at Tough Mudder. "But we’ve never said, ‘Take this pen and piece of paper and come back with a drawn-out idea.’ I’m interested to see what comes back."

Now, Tough Mudder isn’t promising to literally turn the winning submission into an obstacle. Since people can submit anything they can imagine, and the Internet can vote any way it imagines, the team concedes to me that they might be left with 10 finalists—none of whom will have their vision turned into a reality because of either safety or practicality.

"[Most frequently] people request bugs or spiders or bees being involved. It’s not a terrible idea!" says Kombol with a laugh, citing that spiders are a top human phobia and would thereby be splendid fodder for a Tough Mudder course. "But the logistics of acquiring a bunch of spiders is not doable or desirable to our team."

Because of feasibility, and the fact that these obstacles have to be rebuilt more than a dozen times across the world, Kombol suggests people think in terms of two-by-fours, four-by-fours, and plywood—and that they focus on only one element of fear or adventure for their pitch.

"You’ll see participants take all the elements from one course [and sticking them into one obstacle]. ‘There should be zip line over an ice bath while getting electrocuted over a ring of fire," says Kombol. "All those are great . . . but separate them and find what the core of that obstacle is."

Kombol’s own team starts with anywhere from 20 to 40 whiteboard ideas for every single obstacle they actually introduce, and many elements will be paired down or mixed and matched in the process. (Kombol’s spoken about that process at length here.) The core rules, however, are to encourage teamwork, and, when in doubt, frighten the populace with a memorable obstacle that will threaten their life all without putting someone in serious danger.

So if you plan to not just be a finalist but to actually win, the secret seems to be in highlighting that one exciting or terrifying phenomenon that can be carted from place to place—and maximizing its fear factor.

Hmm, I wonder if Donald Trump’s available to hang out in a mud pit.

The Fast Company Innovation Festival