Monday, January 29, 2007

InnoCentive problems more likely to be solved by 'outsiders'

An article in the Wall Street Journal titled 'Prizes for Solutions to Problems Play Valuable Role in Innovation' says:


Now, a proliferation of prizes is attracting bright minds to stubborn problems.

InnoCentive, a company spun off six years ago by drug maker Eli Lilly, charges clients ("seekers") to broadcast scientific problems on a Web site where scientists ("solvers") are offered cash -- usually less than $100,000 -- for solutions; more than 50 challenges are now pending (see the site).


After examining 166 problems posted by 26 research labs on the InnoCentive site over four years, Karim Lakhani, a Harvard Business School professor, found 240 people, on average, examined each problem, 10 offered answers and 29.5% of the problems were solved. (Read Mr. Lakhani's blog.)

One surprise: The further the problem was from a solver's expertise, the more likely he or she was to solve it. It turns out that outsiders look through a completely different lens. Toxicologists were stumped by the significance of pathology observed in a study; within weeks after broadcasting it, a Ph.D. in crystallography offered a solution that hadn't occurred to them.

I mention this because of the common, though not always explicit, belief that you have to be formally trained in somethign to have any sort of 'expertise' concerning some aspect of it.

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