Hooray for McCain. A $300 million Contest for A Better Battery Is A Great Idea.

Way to go John McCain. There is nothing more imporant to the US and the world than an incentive-driven competitive innovation process to produce a better battery. A smaller, ligher, more efficient car battery is key to getting the global economy off its addiction to fossil fuels. And just as the $10 million X-Prize proved to be a powerful incentive for the creation of a non-governmental space ship (and Lindbergh won the Orteig Prize for the first transatlantic airplane flight), so too could McCain’s idea push the edge on battery technology.

There are many ways to incentivize innovation. VC money. Government money. Corporate R&D. Labs (government and private). Serious prize money and well designed contests reward both crowd-sourcing and individual genius kinds of creation.

My only problem with the McCain Contest is that $300 million is probably too much money. It implies government bigness and huge scale. The X Prize Foundation gives out ten million bucks and that seems incentive enough.

But that’s a quibble. Both McCain and Obama have not talked very much about innovation to date. With this $300 million contest for a better car battery, McCain leaps ahead in the debate, even without uttering the word “innovation.”

So Barack, what does innovation mean to you?