Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Pride in the Prize

The inducement prize model, on which Prize4Life is based, is increasingly recognized as a critical tool for making the impossible possible in a wide variety of fields. The X Prize Foundation was an early pioneer in the field and sponsors some of the world’s largest prizes. Paul Jansen, a principal in McKinsey & Co.’s San Francisco office recently interviewed X Prize Founder and CEO Peter Diamandis about the value of prize economics and the philosophy behind prize success. You can access the interview (and transcript) here:
Audio interview with Peter Diamandis

It is important to understand the philosophy of the inducement prize model, and Mr. Diamandis illuminates its purpose quite clearly. By packaging a problem and inviting the world to find its solution, prizes encourage risk taking that might otherwise seem like crazy ideas. They promote a paradigm shift in the way the way that the public conceives of a problem (like ALS) and make the impossible possible. And not only do they promote innovation in the here and now, successful prizes are sustainable endeavors that motivate back-end business plans, in that they often inspire innovations that will result in marketable products, which can serve as further incentive to enter the competition—if you know that more than just the prize is at stake. Moreover, prizes encourage a change in the behavior of individuals as to how they conceive of global problems. As Diamandis says, “when the prize is won is just the beginning."

And the inducement prize model is just the beginning of a new era of understanding how to approach problems. It is no longer the case that you train in a field and then necessarily answer the questions and solve the challenges of that field. Rather, we are entering a new phase of problem solving in which problems from across fields are presented to the entire population, thereby taking advantage of fresh eyes and innovative ideas. This is exactly the kind of “new minds and new ideas” that Prize4Life seeks to inspire in its mission statement.

It is understandable to be at first turned off by the thought of monetary incentives being necessary to motivate research on issues whose solution would garner the thanks of humanity; shouldn’t that research take place without the scourge of a monetary incentive, you might ask? But monetarily incentivizing isn’t a bad thing and is not necessarily indicative of a hopelessly greedy system. The importance and influence of money is undeniable, and the inducement prize model leverages that reality to deeply benefit humanity by motivating solvers to tackle all kinds of problems: the widely recognized (like genomic sequencing) and the more hidden (like the lack of an ALS treatment or biomarker). If prizes influence the direction of research and development in academic and commercial settings, such movement is not to be lambasted as money-grubbing but rather celebrated as the recognition of looming problems that are receiving the attention that they deserve. The inducement prize provides the kind of unbiased and open motivation, with no stipulation for who can solve and how, that is likely to attract innovation and creativity, exactly the thinking that we need to make an ALS biomarker possible.


  1. very informative post. keep it up

  2. i think it's an amazing concept. hopefully it will pave the way for future inventions