If You Have a Problem, Ask Everyone
July 23rd, 2008

The title of this post is an article headline from this week’s New York Science Times. The article describes an approach that is catching on for connecting would be innovators with problems that need solving. The report begins with the story of a chemist in Illinois whose understanding of how to keep cement from setting too soon solved a problem of oil freezing in storage tanks in Alaska.

The chemist and the institute came together through InnoCentive, a company that links organizations (seekers) with problems (challenges) to people all over the world (solvers) who win cash prizes for resolving them. The company gets a posting fee and, if the problem is solved, a “finders fee” equal to about 40 percent of the prize.

The process, according to John Seely Brown, a theorist of information technology and former director of the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center, reflects “a huge shift in popular culture, from consuming to participating” enabled by the interactivity so characteristic of the Internet. It is sometimes called open-source science, taking the name from open-source software in which the source code, or original programming, is made public to encourage others to work on improving it.


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