Do you have a big problem you would love to solve? A problem which, if solved, would transform your business, your life or your community? We all face these kinds of problems from time to time. Allow me to share how I solved a big challenge of my own, and how you can use the same concept to solve yours.
I think of problems as gold mines. The world’s biggest problems are the world’s biggest market opportunities. Solve a really big one, and you can help a billion people and become a billionaire in the process. So how do you do that? Who do you get to help you?
Welcome to the idea of running an incentive prize competition. Whether the challenge is big or small, you can incentivize brilliant minds around the world (or the ones closest to you—such as your friends or people who work with you) to help solve your challenge. And best of all, you only need to reward the winner.
Many of us feel the pressure that competition creates every day. It pushes us to be better. And we know that by creating competition, we can push others to do incredible things as well.
In 1994 I desperately wanted to get to space. The problem was, NASA was the only game in town, and my chances of riding with them were nonexistent (at 5-foot-5 in height, I had a better chance of becoming an NBA All-Star than I did of being accepted as an astronaut). I needed to find a way around the status quo.
After reading that Charles Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic Ocean in 1927 to win a $25,000 purse, I became enamored with the power of incentive prizes. These competitions were the perfect way to excite and leverage the world’s most talented, creative people to solve my challenge. That insight led me to the creation of the $10 million Ansari XPRIZE for spaceflight, which was offered for the first commercial, reusable, three-person spaceship. The competition was won 12 years ago, in 2004, and immediately commercialized by Richard Branson to create Virgin Galactic.
Since 2004, XPRIZE has launched one to two prizes each year in exciting areas of exploration such as space, health, learning, ocean preservation and beyond. We’ve made remarkable progress in science and technology. Imagine the progress you can make by challenging others to help solve your big problem.
Rather than hiring one person or team, imagine having tens or hundreds of people working tirelessly on your problem. And you set the deadlines! This means you can incentivize rapid breakthroughs much more quickly than traditional mechanisms might; and in the meantime engage communities, organizations and people by raising awareness, mobilizing and inspiring.
The September issue of SUCCESS is based on the subject of competition. Many of us feel the pressure competition creates every day. It pushes us to be better. And we know that by creating competition, we can push others to do incredible things as well. What I love best about competition, however, is that it’s not a zero-sum game. Although we may be separated by which side we’re on, we’re ultimately working toward mutual goals. The teams that fell short of the prize for spaceflight may have been disappointed not to win the cash, but their work comes with quite a consolation: Soon enough, private citizens like them—like you and me—will get to visit space! That was the result we all wanted from the beginning.
When we make it up there, we’ll look down on Earth, so blue and bright and full of possibility. And then I think we’ll realize that every one of us is on the same team after all.
This article originally appeared in the September 2016 issue of SUCCESS magazine.