Government’s new modus operandi for innovation: The Prize

By | April 29, 2010

Governments new modus operandi for innovation The Prize

…The X Prize modeled itself on the Orteig Prize, announced in 1919 by hotelier Raymond Orteig as a spur for innovation in aviation. The $25,000 award would go to whoever could fly from New York to Paris, or vice versa, nonstop. Eight years later, Charles Lindbergh claimed the purse with his solo dash across the Atlantic. Diamandis said the key element of the story is not Lindbergh’s triumph, but what came afterward: “Within 18 months of Lindbergh’s flight, the number of passengers rose from 6,000 in 1927 to 180,000 in 1929.”

Last September, the Obama administration released the Strategy for American Innovation, which called on agencies to use prizes and challenges. The obvious advantage of the prize approach is that the government pays only for results. The competitors invest their own money in research and development.

Prizes also diversify the pool of problem-solvers. Solutions to technical problems, for example, are often found by people in seemingly unrelated fields. A prime example involves the oil spilled by the Exxon Valdez in 1989, said Dwayne Spradlin, chief executive of InnoCentive, and another of the speakers at the Friday session. Spradlin said the Oil Spill Recovery Institute of Cordova, Alaska, had trouble cleaning up the oil at the bottom of Prince William Sound. When exposed to low temperatures, the oil would turn nearly solid. InnoCentive helped the institute put together a $20,000 contest for the best solution.

A construction engineer in the Midwest realized that the problem was analogous to the difficulty of keeping concrete from hardening prematurely when pouring a foundation. His winning solution used industrial vibrating equipment, placed on barges, which kept the oil in a liquid state.

“We don’t even call this outsourcing,” Spradlin said. “In this model it’s ‘diversity.’ You’re trying to get to as many potential solvers as possible.”

Contests and crowdsourcing aren’t foolproof, say the veterans of the game. If the rules aren’t carefully structured, someone can win a prize with an approach that has no practical value. The goal also has to be specific and realistic.

“You can’t just ask, ‘invent for me antigravity’ type of questions. Or cure cancer,” said Karim Lakhani, assistant professor of management at Harvard Business School, who has written extensively on open innovation. …

via Government’s new modus operandi for innovation: The Prize.

4 thoughts on “Government’s new modus operandi for innovation: The Prize

  1. Ann

    Have we sunk so low? We’re “crowds” now? “Crowdsourcing? Are the people that far removed from the minds of the elite that we’re only a sylable away from “outsourcing”?

    It’s a national science fair! More like a TV contest show. Even the government is in the entertainment business. Reminds me when Bush had a good idea about warring with Iraq (although in his psychotic condition it was a religious mission, a command from God). And then later he made fun about searching for Osama bin Laden. Or, when FEMA screwed up with Hurricane Katrina, while Bushie was celebrating.

    I get the feeling some people with a lot of power and wealth are just making fun at the rest of us, because they can’t be serious! You know, there are such things as academics, engineers and experts of all kinds talking and saying things, giving solutions all the time, everyday … if only the gov’t their head out of … and listen to the people, not crowds.

    1. Xeno Post author

      Really Ann? I don’t think this is an attempt to ignore experts or insult us. Quite the contrary. This includes the academics and experts but also, finally, gives everyone else who might have an innovative answer a chance to contribute. I see this as a brilliant move. It is about time that we use the full power of our combined abilities to solve our problems. I say go, go, go! Post the contests, the reasons for the goals set, the prizes and the winners for all to see. Food, energy, medicine… there are so many areas where this could improve our day to day lives.

      Sent from my iPhone

  2. Ann

    Dear Xeno, I wrote,”there are such things as academics, engineers and experts of all kinds talking and saying things, giving solutions all the time, everyday … if only the gov’t their head out of … and listen to the people, not crowds.”

    I didn’t mean to imply that an ordinary person is not an expert, after he or she looks into a problem or troubling situation.

    What I wanted to say is that people have been offering criticisms, comments, suggestions, solutions, and even inventions for a long, long, long time. The government and powerful elite simply does not want to listen.

    Do they have to make a contest show? Do they have to refer to us as “crowds” [from Old England “crudan,” “to press, crush.” The noun is first attested 1567; the earlier word was press.]? It’s demeaning.

    As an example, Xeno, what happened to the water-powered car, about which you posted? (And, another one in Japan which is supposedly on the market, I think.) This invention by an independent “expert” (note!) in Ohio (?) has disappeared from the news. Yet, his invention (and the one in Japan) could have taken a lot of pressure caused by major petroleum and munition (military suppliers) companies (via governmental lobbying etc.). Pressure that got us in the war in the Mid-East in the first place. A war that is costing you and me and every other American citizen lots of money (somewhere around a $1 trillion now). Money that could have gone into our economy to revitalize it. No, instead, they support big business with stupendously enormous bailouts, part of which goes into the private accounts of the CEOs of those companies. Either our gov’t is ridiculously thick or they know exactly what they’re doing. What they’re doing is not to our best interests.

    [You can send my comment to the gov’t’s contest show.]

    1. Xeno Post author

      Agreed that there is a history of government and big business ignoring or even suppressing good ideas, but I don’t understand your beef with the government finally waking up and using and rewarding good ideas from all sources. It sounds to me like they are finally starting to listen.

      Are you saying they are going to use this to somehow steal and squelch ideas? If they post the contests and the results for all to see, how could they?

      A large number of people is by definition a crowd. I personally find nothing insulting demeaning about the term. They are going to give credit where it is due, so the person or team with a solution will stand out from those who elect to play the game, right?

      Perhaps I should not have posted that toungue-in-cheek image of the cat and the buttered toast… 😉

Leave a Reply