Learning How to Shoot for the Moon: Caterpillar & XPRIZE

August 16, 2016

If you could harness the power of the greatest minds in the world, what problem would you try to solve? Perhaps more importantly, what would you learn? How much could you improve your own problem solving skills by being among those great thinkers? Caterpillar is on the path to discovering those answers.

XPRIZE is a world-renowned non-profit organization that uses competition to incentivize research around some of the world’s greatest challenges. Calling themselves an “innovation engine,” XPRIZE says “tapping into that indomitable spirit of competition brings about breakthroughs and solutions that once seemed unimaginable. Impossible.” As we continue along our innovation journey at Caterpillar, we are now harnessing the intellectual capacity and problem solving know-how of the great minds at XPRIZE. Caterpillar is sponsoring what XPRIZE calls a “Visioneering Team,” bringing together thought leaders who are designing a competition to incentivize research toward a particular challenge.

What is our “Moonshot”?

XPRIZE asks each Visioneering Team to define a Grand Challenge, the seemingly impossible task that has yet to be solved but deserves a solution -- a solution that will benefit humanity. XPRIZE offers companies a chance to make a unique difference in the world by addressing a “moonshot” – an ambitious, exploratory and ground-breaking project – while also gaining tremendous business benefit by enhancing its innovation culture. While that offer is exciting and motivating, it is also important to proceed with an appropriate amount of caution, ensuring proper management of Caterpillar's intellectual property. In defining the first Grand Challenge that our Caterpillar-sponsored team would try to solve, we wanted to focus on a topic that would also be near and dear to the hearts of our employees.

In early 2016, former Caterpillar group president Ed Rapp announced his retirement and shared the heartbreaking news that he is currently battling ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease. So, what better way to learn XPRIZE’s innovative approach to problem solving than by also helping to break through barriers related to ALS research?

Anyone who knows Ed, as so many of our global employees do, knows that he is a dedicated problem solver. He was a change maker for our company, serving for 36+ years including as our CFO during the Great Recession, improving our Construction Industries business and leading our mining business through one of the steepest commodity price downturns in company history.

While our primary gain in pursuing this Grand Challenge area is the tremendous business value that leveraging the work of XPRIZE will allow, we believe we can also be a change maker for those currently battling ALS, including Ed. Throughout his career, Ed approached problem solving in a similar vein as the XPRIZE model: clearly identify what problem you are trying to solve and then openly collaborate with the best people available. We believe the XPRIZE process and an aggressive use of crowd sourcing can play a critical role in solving the extremely complex challenge of ALS and enhance Caterpillar’s ever-evolving culture of innovation.

How does Caterpillar’s involvement work?

Currently we are sponsoring only the first stage of the XPRIZE process. Between now and September, our Visioneering Team will be developing what is called the “Prize Concept.” The concept will be presented to a Summit of leaders and big thinkers in Southern California this September. If the concept is deemed to be “prizable,” XPRIZE will pick it up and launch it as one of its global crowd sourcing competitions.

In the meantime, we are using this process to evaluate future opportunities to partner with XPRIZE in support of Caterpillar's various innovation initiatives and challenges facing some of our core businesses.

“Learning the XPRIZE methodology will be an important addition to our innovation toolbox. Similar to our work with Singularity, KickBox and many other innovation tools and platforms, working with XPRIZE will expand our network and better enable us to ‘think beyond the iron,’” said Jim Carlberg, currently on special assignment with several innovation projects. “We’ve named our current Visioneering Team ‘Cat’s Iron Will: Finding a Cure for ALS’ because when Caterpillar puts its collective mind toward a challenge, there is simply no stopping us.”

Watch this video to learn how our Visioneering Team ‘Cat’s Iron Will’ is helping to make progress toward a cure. 

Read the news release from XPRIZE about Caterpillar's involvement. 

Visit the Cat’s Iron Will ALS XPRIZE team webpage to learn more about the innovation competition.

If you would like to donation to join the fight against ALS, please visit Stay Strong vs. ALS.

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