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The Other Incentive - Doing the Right Thing

July 8, 2014 by Fraser Cain

As economists are fond of telling us, it’s all about incentives.

There are plenty of organizations that push humanity forward, and they do this because of the incentives that they value.

For example, Intel researches a new computer chip because they’re incentivized by profit. If they can create a cheaper, faster chip, they can sell more, beat the competition, and pass along value to their shareholders.

Governments are incentivized by re-election.

But what about the problems that don’t match any existing incentive structure?

What about the solutions incentivized by morality, for doing the right thing?

For example, there are plenty of diseases out there which kill thousands of people every year, but there’s no incentive to cure them by the traditional profit or government incentives.

There’s lot of money spent on male pattern baldness and low-testosterone but relatively little on diarrhoeal diseases or pneumonia, which kill millions every year.

But we’re starting to see cracks in the incentives, and some bottom-up support for doing things because they’re right.

Here’s an example.

Solar Roadways just raised $2.2 million for the development of their solar power-generating road system. People were literally throwing money at them without anything in return but T-shirts and a name engraved on a glass hexagon.

Is it because Solar Roadways is the best solution for renewable energy? Maybe? But they’ve got their work cut out for them to turn this into a reality. They’ve received plenty of criticism.

No, I think that Solar Roadways received so much backing because finally, somebody is doing something about global warming. All that pent up frustration directed fruitlessly towards a government deadlocked by corporate interests just found an outlet: Solar Roadways.

People are starting to realize that they can connect together, pool their resources and start funding the development of the solutions that matter to them.

Their incentive? Doing the right thing.

I’m really looking forward to the day when a large group of people come together and generate a massive prize to incentivize someone to make the world a better place.

Of course, I hope they use HeroX as a platform, but any way it happens, the world will be a better place.


  • Ralf Lippold Oct. 1, 2014, 6:24 a.m. PDT

    SolarRoadways has already made a terrific job - if it were only for the promotion of bringing solar on the road the collecting of $2.2 mio would be ok.

    As I have heard they have already worked on a second prototype, and I am more than eager to soon learn about it.

    h/t Julien Schröder-Gianoncelli who while doing an interview over the phone with me earlier this year on crowdfunding pointed me to SolarRoadways