Hey Crowd, Who's Feeling Clever?

​Let's say you run a research lab, and you've got a really tough problem. I mean a real doozy - your best scientists have been working on it for years and they haven't been able to figure anything out. But you still need an answer, so how are you going to get one? Enter a new phenomenon: Open Innovation. You've probably heard of companies relying on the "wisdom of the crowds" for things like the latest Doritos ad campaignsThreadless T-shirt designs, and the world's largest encyclopedia, but you may not know that firms are also turning to crowds with their really high-tech conundrums. A number of platforms have sprung up to connect problem seekers with problem solvers, of which Innocentive (founded 2001) is probably the most famous.

I'll go more into Open Innovation (and it's cousin, Crowdsourcing) in a later post, but the basic idea behind Innocentive is that companies can post problems and associated rewards on a website where individual scientists can sign up to view them. If someone thinks they might be able to answer a problem, they connect with the company and send in a solution. The company then determines the best solutions and gives (big) rewards to the solvers - up to the tune of $100,000. Keep in mind, though, these are complex research problems. Examples include designing an injectable suspension placebo with no pharmacological or biological activity, or synthesizing a food grade polymer delivery system. So then the big question: does it actually work? 

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