The owner of the Center Lovell Inn in Maine received more than $900,000. The new owner paid $125. How? Through a contest.
Instead of using the traditional method of selling property through a realtor, the Center Lovell Inn was “sold” through an essay contest. Having paid an entry fee of $125, the person who wrote a winning essay would get the inn as the prize. Meanwhile, if she had enough entrants, the inn owner could raise many hundreds of thousands of dollars. On the other hand, if the participation in the contest was too low, then the entry fees just had to be refunded.
Where are we going? To the creative power of crowdsourcing.
What Contests Created
For hundreds of years, contests have stimulated innovation.
In 1418, the problem in Florence was a cathedral without a dome.Two hundred gold florins was the prize for anyone who figured out how to span 150 feet that were 180 feet off a ground floor that was octagonal. It worked and today we have Brunelleschi’s Dome.
In 1714, the British Parliament said,“…nothing is so much wanted and desired at sea, as the discovery of the longitude, for the safety and quickness of voyages, the preservation of ships, and the lives of men…” Passing the Longitude Act, they offered a £20,000 prize and soon had John Harrison’s winning plan for a chronometer that used triangulation to determine a ship’s location. I suspect that only a contest could have enticed someone like John Harrison who was clockmaker and a carpenter to share his plans for a chronometer with the government.
In addition we could select synthetic billiard balls, the concept of canning, and margarine from a long list of the inventions that came from contests.
A NASA Contest
Much more recently, NASA used the contest approach for an outer space medical kit that offered the winners cash prizes and six VIP shuttle launch passes. Limited to 10 days, the competition attracted 439 participants and an algorithm that cut the time for “kit optimization” from three hours to 30 seconds. Now NASA is looking for solutions to asteroid detection, to improve communication between the earth and astronauts and to help astronauts track their nutritional intake.
Our Bottom Line: Innovation
Because innovation returns us to Joseph Schumpeter’s creative destruction, we need to offset the restraining influence of the status quo. One vehicle that individuals, businesses and government can use is crowdsourcing through contests that create the incentive for experimentation and multiple solutions.