Archives for innovation



The Rise of the Prize

This is a guest post by Vijay V. Vaitheeswaran, who is the China Business Editor of The Economist and author of the just-published book Need, Speed, and Greed: How the New Rules of Innovation Can Transform Businesses, Propel Nations to Greatness, and Tame the World’s Most Wicked Problems.

The Rise of the Prize
By Vijay V. Vaitheeswaran

Could the incentive prize be the most powerful and yet most underutilized tool we have to tame the wicked problems of the twenty-first century?

Prizes in themselves are nothing new, of course. The Longitude Prize — a purse of up to £20,000 — was offered by the British Parliament in 1714 for the discovery of a practical means for ships to determine their longitude. This was an enormous problem on the high seas, as the inability to work out longitude on the sailboats of the age often led to costly and deadly errors in navigation. The greatest minds of the British scientific academy wrestled with this problem, but could not crack it. Read More »



Bring Your Questions for End of Illness Author David Agus

Here’s an obvious but sobering thought: every one of us will someday get sick and die. And here’s a happier thought: with ever-advancing medical technology and research, we can now avoid many kinds of illnesses and add more years to our lifespan.

The oncologist David Agus lives halfway between those two thoughts. He is a professor at USC, the founder of Oncology.com, a co-founder of Navigenics, and now the author of The End of Illness. Most impressively, perhaps, he was recently a guest on The Daily Show

The End of Illness is Agus’s take on how the body works and why it fails. Along the way, he challenges a lot of conventional wisdom about health with academic studies and his own medical experience. Arguments in the book include: that taking vitamins may increase the risk of cancer; that sitting at a desk all day may be as damaging as smoking; and that you can tell something about a patient’s health based on whether she wears high-heel shoes. One review of the book reads: “A ‘rock star’ doctor says throw away the vitamins, load up on baby aspirin, and keep moving.” Read More »



Can You Copyright a Football Play? Ask Bill Belichick

Just about a year ago we posted about the incredibly innovative game of football. As we described, all of the innovation we’ve seen in football – the spread offense, the zone blitz, the wildcat, and dozens of other offensive and defensive formations, strategies, and counter-strategies – occurs without anyone ever asserting ownership. Rival teams are free to copy new plays, and they do.

It’s not as if ownership would be impossible – existing intellectual property rules might cover at least some football innovations as copyrightable “choreographic works,” or as patentable processes. The fact remains, however, that no one has ever tried to copyright or patent a new play or formation. Read More »



The Physics of Putting

I always love it when I’ve been doing something one way my whole life, and then someone explains to me there is a better way to do that same thing, and the new way is so simple I can immediately switch and see benefits.

Usually it is a new technology that unlocks the magic. For instance, XM Radio, iTunes and Pandora all fundamentally changed the way I listen to music. My Sonicare toothbrush is a hundred times better than a regular toothbrush. After the creation of seedless watermelons, I would never again intentionally buy one that had seeds. Microwave popcorn is another example.

What is even neater, I think, than a new technology changing things, is when someone just comes up with a better way of thinking about a problem. I’ve done a little bit of reading on the origins of randomized experimentation, and it is fascinating to see how that new and powerful idea emerged.

On a much smaller scale, I’ve recently had that sort of change in my thinking about another issue: how to read putts on the green when playing golf. Read More »



The Miraculous Decline in Deaths by Fire

New York City is on track this year to break its record for the fewest number of deaths by fire. To me, the decline of death by fire is one of the most underappreciated success stories of the past 100 years. Read More »



"Tweakers" and "Pioneers" in the World of Innovation

Kal Raustiala, a professor at UCLA Law School and the UCLA International Institute, and Chris Sprigman, a professor at the University of Virginia Law School, are experts in counterfeiting and intellectual property. They have been guest-blogging for us about copyright issues. Today, they write about the roles of “tweakers” and “pioneers” in the innovation world. Read More »



Reading, Rockets and ‘Rithmetic

Our latest Freakonomics Radio podcast looks into the Race to the Top education-reform program. (You can subscribe at iTunes, get it by RSS feed or listen live via the box at right.) We argue that the U.S. Department of Education is acting a bit more like a venture capitalist than we’re used to — and that that’s probably a good thing. Read More »



Innovation Nation

If you want to live somewhere particularly innovative, consider Boston, Paris or Amsterdam. Read More »