When Group Think is Good

Topic: Crowdsourcing and the environment.

 

Dwayne Spradlin: An organization called the Oil Spill Recovery Institute, based in Cordova, Alaska was really formed as a partnership between not-for-profit interests, government and the oil companies, after Exxon Valdez spill. They were focused on was: how do you clean up oil spills in sub arctic waters? Which requires kind of a different way of thinking.

 

Oil in sub-arctic waters get so cold it’s almost like a solid, you can’t pump it. So what most people don’t realize is that there are still ~80,000 barrels off of Prince William Sound, off the coast of Alaska that still haven’t been cleaned up from the Exxon Valdez spill. So in the last couple of years, after really years of trying to figure out how to get the oil out, and running up against this problem of very viscous, almost solid, oil they put a challenge on the InnoCentive network to try to find a solution to this. In about three months this was put out all over the world and dozens and dozens of really interesting, innovative and creative solutions came in. But they awarded the winning solution to a construction engineer from the Midwest. What he recognized is that keeping oil liquid in cold waters is not so different in trying to keep cement liquid in pouring a foundation.

 

Again, organizations would have never thought to look there. That’s the power of diversity--getting everybody involved in solving a problem.

 

It turns out what he recommended is that if you will off the shelf construction equipment that vibrates the cement keeps it liquid, with slight modifications could be used in the barge systems that are trying to pump the oil off the bottom of the Sound. So, they’re doing that now.

 

What’s most exciting about this for me is the follow up. There was a $20,000 prize and this gentleman John Davis flies himself to Cordova, Alaska, using the prize money, to meet the people he was helping. And now he is doing pro bono work for them, and the Oil Spill Recovery Institute now runs challenges routinely over InnoCentive. They call InnoCentive their virtual laboratory. We are their laboratory.

 

But the real moral of the story for me is this, he didn’t do it for the $20,000. He did it to make a difference in the world and that passion is probably one of the most important currencies you can imagine.

 

Recorded on: June 3, 2009.

 

Many years after the Exxon Valdez oil spill, off-the-shelf cement equipment is now being used clean up oil in arctic waters.

(Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images)
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