X Prizes

I spend most Sundays doing as much of nothing as I can stand. Admittedly, that isn’t as much nothing as the average person, but it’s a start. A big part of each Sunday is spent reading — stuff that I don’t have to read but enjoy reading. Usually there are a few magazines included: Wired, Fast Company, Fortune, Bicycling, Scientific American Mind, and many others if I’ve recently flown somewhere. Whenever I fly, I purchase magazines at the airport to read during flight. I always get more magazines than I can read because I’m an extremely slow reader. The overflow fills my Sundays for the next couple of weeks.

Today, I was reading the May issue of Fast Company. Anya Kamenetz has an article called The Power of the Prize in which she describes the success of using contests like the X-Prize to spur innovation. The concept goes back to the 1500s, and has picked up speed since the X-Prize Foundation handed Burt Rutan $10 million for taking SpaceShipOne to the edge of outer space and back twice. In the article, Kamenetz relates that economist James Love believes we can use contests to solve major problems if we can define them well. Kamenetz also explains that research has shown that the odds of solving a particular problem go up as the challenge gets farther from the solver’s field of expertise.

Being one who loves a good challenge, I think this is a wonderful idea. And since I hardly have anything that could really be considered a field of expertise, I’m hereby offering my services, such as they are, to anyone who is putting together a team to chase after a multi-million dollar prize. Just let me know.

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