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Audience Engagement and 99 Luft Red Balloons


Redballoon Actually 10 luft red balloons.

DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency – the grandparent to the internet) announced a challenge on December 5, 2009.  Find 10 red balloons placed randomly in the United States and win (earn) $40,000.  And you thought your tax money was wasted.

From their site:

To mark the 40th anniversary of the Internet, DARPA has announced the DARPA Network Challenge, a competition that will explore the roles the Internet and social networking play in the timely communication, wide-area team-building, and urgent mobilization required to solve broad-scope, time-critical problems.

The challenge is to be the first to submit the locations of 10 moored, 8-foot, red, weather balloons at 10 fixed locations in the continental United States. The balloons will be in readily accessible locations and visible from nearby roads.

The winners were a team from MIT that used, in their words – "a recursive incentive strategy."  Fancy words for "give us info we'll pay you."  Incentives do work. 

This week on Colbert Report they had one of the members of the winning team from MIT, Riley Crane, on the show.  Below is the video of the interview.  (Email subscribers may have to click through.)

What is fascinating to me is they found the balloons in…. wait for it…

8 hours 52 minutes.  

Watch Steven Colbert's reaction when Riley Crane tells him that.  

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Riley Crane
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor Economy

Your Take Away

Given a direction toward a goal, the tools to collect information and insights, and an incentive – your company could find solutions to your business issues.  This type of challenge can engage and energize your team.  Think about a few problems you want to solve at your organization.  Could getting smart people energized and connected solve them?  

As Riley Crane mentions in the video - if you have a clear target, with a verifiable solution, and can align individual self-interest with the greater goal – you can have remarkable results.

Sounds like an incentive program.


And just 'cuz it's fun….



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Originally posted on on Incentive Intelligence

3 Responses to “Audience Engagement and 99 Luft Red Balloons”

  1. Scott Crandall says:

    Paul — Interesting and — potentially — amazing. I wonder how much of the non-use of all available resources for finding solutions has to do with extrinsic issues (time, genuine ignorance or lack of expertise, etc) vs intrinsic issues (ego, distrust, perceived ignorance or lack of expertise, etc). Very compelling.

  2. Paul Hebert says:

    In this instance they had a pretty “self-selecting” group – people who follow DARPA are going to be “geeky” (apologies folks) and already pre-disposed to the concept. But I’d submit that these tools have crossed the chasm and are now pretty standard in many 25 -39 year old’s arsenal of web tools.
    Companies already have intranets that can be easily adapted to these types of activities.
    But your point is right on – it is a mix of intrinsic and extrinsic. I think the initial attraction is the extrinsic – but the real effort is driven out of the desire to be part of the solution.

  3. Scott Crandall says:

    I agree, but so much of the issue is cultural/generational. How do we make that leap? In fact, that seems to be a common denominator around a lot of what you’ve posted over the last 2+ weeks. We can’t just wait for dinosaurs to die out.
    We need an affirmative strategy around “convincing” managers to utilize their assets — probably the $64,000 question, right? Arguing a touch with what you said above: I believe the REAL effort is convincing managers that there needs to be more people involved in solutions — for a host of good reasons.

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