Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Sign in

The Power of Competition: How to Focus the World's Brains on your Innovation Challenges

06/06/2009 9:00 AM Wong Auditorium
Fiona Murray, Sarofim Family Career Development Professor

Description: Cooperation may be making us "a little bit too nice" when it comes to innovation, suggests Fiona Murray. She believes there's nothing like competition for injecting energy into the process of solving key innovation problems, whether in business or society.

Murray is convinced competition make ventures "more effective, more global, more inclusive and more democratic," all important dimensions for business in a flattening world. She describes the rapidly expanding R&D expenditures of India and China, including the vast numbers of Ph.D.s these nations are producing in science and engineering. The corporate sector has found building global R&D organizations and collaborations difficult. In this challenging environment, where the advantage goes to those firms snagging the best scientists, Murray believes "prizes are complementary mechanisms" for attracting global talent. Just like historic rivalries among great artists (Nb., Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese), or the race to discover the structure of DNA, "fierce competition" can yield "dramatic productivity" and innovation, especially when the right rewards are at stake.

Murray cites the 18th century competition to invent a mechanism for determining a ship's longitude, which offered a 20 thousand"pound prize. She jumps to the present, with the X Prize Foundation and its various competitions to solve engineering challenges and societal problems, such as the three"person reusable spaceship, and a 100"mpg car -- each with a $10 million prize purse. But it's not just the money. Recent studies show that prizes prove alluring when they focus efforts and resources on a problem that people are already studying, offering fame and "putting fun back into innovation." The fascination skews rational calculations, with competitors often spending well beyond the amount offered to the winner.

Corporations should adopt the prize mechanism, believes Murray, to help generate new ideas (such as new applications for Google's phone); or to help solve very specific problems. Campus competitions are up markedly, she notes, which might be a distraction for students at places like MIT. Start small and inside the organization first, creating a shared bulletin board and offering small prizes, she advises, which will "generate energy." Then take competition beyond the company. And don't forget, "the work must be fun" in order to "get a richer set of people to participate."

About the Speaker(s): Fiona Murray studies and teaches innovation and entrepreneurship with an emphasis on the life science sector. Her research examines how growing economic incentives, particularly intellectual property, influence the rate and direction of scientific progress among academic scientists. She also has a large project that uses modern bioinformatics methods to examine the patent landscape of the human genome and its implications for commercialization of genetics research. This research was recently published in Science.

Murray attended the University of Oxford, where she received both a B.A. and M.A. in Chemistry. At Harvard University, she earned her M.S. in Engineering Sciences in 1992, and a Ph.D. in Applied Sciences in 1996.

Host(s): Sloan School of Management, MIT Sloan School of Management

Comments (2)

Posted over 3 years by Anonymous 00:00:08

insert here

Posted almost 3 years by Anonymous 00:00:05

You need to log in, in order to post comments.

MIT World — special events and lectures

MIT World — special events and lectures

Category: Events | Updated 7 months ago

More from MIT World — special events and lectures

Cancer Research in the Genomic Era

Cancer Research in the Genomic Era

Added over 4 years ago | 01:01:00 | 3217 views

Scientific, Health and Political Implications of an Avian Flu Pandemic

Scientific, Health and Political Im...

Added over 4 years ago | 01:37:00 | 3716 views

Transportation Policy: Thinking Globally, Acting Locally and Walking the Talk

Transportation Policy: Thinking Glo...

Added over 4 years ago | 01:04:00 | 17057 views

Glimpses of India - Stephen Alter, Anita Desai, Robert Kanigel

Glimpses of India - Stephen Alter, ...

Added over 4 years ago | 01:08:00 | 2473 views

Open Science and Scientific Publishing

Open Science and Scientific Publishing

Added over 4 years ago | 01:16:00 | 5916 views

A Reading by Jamaica Kincaid

A Reading by Jamaica Kincaid

Added over 4 years ago | 01:27:00 | 5977 views