A thought about the X PRIZE Foundation as Pomerantz exits

Earlier this week I got word that the Director of Space prizes at the X PRIZE Foundation, William Pomerantz is leaving his six year post for a position as the Vice President of Special Projects at Virgin Galactic.  I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know Will over the last few years.  As someone dedicated to chronicling the Google Lunar X PRIZE that he’s been so deeply involved in, I’ll miss our frequent interactions.  In the long term this move will be a good thing for Will, and leaves a significant leadership vaccume in his position at the X PRIZE foundation.

As an organization founded to be disruptive to the industries it participates in, I’d like to offer a challenge to the leadership at the X PRIZE foundation:

Fill Will’s position with the kind of person who can create disruption. From the outside, it seems that you are listing into a state of constant caution. This should scare the hell out of you.  The measure of your success is in the long term impact you have on the course of history.  I heard a number of people within your organization describe the success of the recently completed Progressive Automotive X PRIZE in terms of how many media impressions it received in the week of the awards ceremony.  Counting media mentions is not being an agent for change and you should know this. You cannot fit the true measure of success neatly into a spreadsheet, so you need to find another way to measure your effectiveness.

When we design a prize, it’s really important that the prize deliver a team and technology to a point where a business can take off. It’s of zero interest to me to have a competition where the result ends up in a record book or a museum shelf. For us, success means there’s an industry launched on the heels of a very visible achievement. – Peter Diamandis

Enable your people to be the great leaders they are.  Banish long useless meetings. Allow people who are in a position of leadership to make decisions without the need for a vote amongst everyone else. Be the agile company that your contestants need you to be to take on the challenges you set before them

You effect change by going right to the hearts and minds of innovators. You challenge them to build the impossible and incent them with prizes. You team with them to lower the barriers to success, paving the way for them to succeed on every level. Your responsibility is to set the bar, and then make sure that they clear it. Everything you do should be solely focused on the point of the prize.

Almost as important as capturing the innovators attention is garnering widespread public interest and support.  A large group of public supporters can do wonders for entrepreneurs and inventors looking to get funding. Your impact in 2011 involves BOTH rising to the challenge AND involving a ready and willing public. Connect people with the challenge on a broad level and the goals they endeavor to complete will be much easier to achieve.

The idea behind the X PRIZE Foundation is sound, it’s the execution that needs some work.  Roll up your sleeves.  We’ve got some ass to kick.

4 thoughts on “A thought about the X PRIZE Foundation as Pomerantz exits

      1. The honest truth is this (and I know from experience): it takes a lot more than a captain to steer the ship. Your point is completely valid, that Will needs a replacement who is disruptive, but whoever takes the helm also needs the support of everyone else involved – the Foundation, Google, the teams (especially the teams!), and the public.nnIt’s not a one-man band over there, despite Will/Peter being singular public figures. There are so many cooks in the kitchen that change is exceedingly difficult, particularly since it involves millions of dollars of other people’s money. Bear in mind that every rule change, every deadline, and every decision – no matter how big or how small – has the potential to cost millions of dollars of stakeholder money.nnAll that said, I couldn’t agree with you more. Sometimes you have to make unpopular decisions with unpopular results, but if you can do it with a constant eye toward progress it may be worth it.nnThey told Lindbergh he was crazy too.


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