Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Prizes on The Giving Channel

What does it mean when first an economist and then an environmentalist each win a major prize for peace?

For that matter, what is it with philanthropy and prizes these days? While some prizes have been around for ages, new ones are popping up everywhere. Taken all together, they spark the following questions for me:
  • Truly inspirational (and cost-effective) catalysts to new ideas? Are the prizes an effort to spark a new innovation marketplace?
  • An end-run around patent law?
  • A means to creating market solutions for social problems?
  • Recognition of lifetime achievements?
  • Egalitarian strategies to acknowledge the contributions of individuals and not just organizations?
  • Vainglorious philanthropic endeavors that celebrate the name on the prize as much as the prize winners?
  • Do prizes change lives? Fields of study?
  • Critical components of strategic change efforts?
  • Cheap ways to get innovators to invest in the upfront work, in pursuit of a moment of fame?
  • Grants - pay someone for inputs. Prizes - pay someone for outputs (Tyler Cowen, Future Pundit)
We examined some of these possibilities in a paper called "Catalyzing Creativity through Competition: Building the Field of Digital Media and Learning." The paper can be downloaded here.

I invite you to consider these questions with me. Over on the Giving Channel we're honoring October, the month in which the granddaddy of all philanthropic awards, the Nobel Prizes, are announced. I've selected several videos of prize ceremonies, acceptance speeches and interviews with winners of the Nobel Prize, arts and writers awards, celebrated actors and play writers at work, and thought leaders talking about what prizes do and don't do. Watch the videos, read the papers, and join me in the forum discussion about prizes, philanthropy and innovation.

Featured videos and links reveal the quality and diversity of prize winning efforts, look into the roles that prizes play regarding innovation and markets, and point you to some of the newer prize competitions now underway.

There are many sides to prizes. This year's Nobel Prize winner for literature, Doris Lessing, may have set a new standard for caustic reactions, when she responded to a Reuter's reporter about the news:

"Look I have won all the prizes in Europe, every bloody one. I'm delighted to win them all, okay?" she responded testily.

As an afterthought she turned around and mumbled:

"It's a royal flush."

If your organization gives prizes, why? And if you have digital video of the award ceremonies or the winners at work, send it to me for the Giving Channel.

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