Indeed, if you're a retired, unemployed or aspiring scientist, a new world of opportunity awaits you. Some 100,000 scientists from 175 countries have already registered with InnoCentive, a visionary matchmaking system links experts to unsolved R&D problems, allowing these companies to tap the talents of a global, scientific community without having to employ everybody full-time. Launched as an e-business venture by U.S. pharmaceutical giant Eli Lily in 2001, the company now provides on-demand solutions to innovation-hungry titans such as Boeing, Dow, DuPont, and Novartis.
For smart companies, the old notion that you have to motivate, develop, and retain all of your best people internally is becoming null. Of course, you'll still need great internal talent. But increasingly, you should assume that many of the best people reside outside your corporate walls. With an eBay for innovation, however, a massive reservoir of talent would be a few clicks away.
Just because talent lives in Northern California doesn't mean that Pittsburgh can't benefit from that asset of intellectual capital. While that talent may demand proximity to other talent (the Creative Class thesis), those minds can be put to work anywhere around the world. As the online communities of ideas continue to develop, eventually there will be diminishing returns for proximity.
We should steer our systems of education towards better online collaboration. I know from experience that an online community member learns quickly what she needs to know to thrive in the environment, while identifying expertise that can help her solve a problem. Not only does the virtual idea marketplace do a more efficient job of matching issues with experts, it produces more innovators.