Mar 2, 2011, 4:01 AM, Posted by

What is an idea worth spreading?  I almost fell out of my chair here in Long Beach, California yesterday at TED2011—a couple of times, actually. (Here’s a great overview of Day 1)  In addition, though, to the big tent main sessions—spectacles you might even say—the week long event includes some slightly lower key, somewhat intimate venues that highlight wonderful talks by various folks with great ideas.  One of those was yesterday morning by Charles Roberts from the Royal Institute about addressing climate change.  Of course interesting—yet it could have been more of the same—until he started linking to some pretty universal truths.  Roberts lamented that many current efforts to address carbon reduction struggle because of market dysfunction or in many cases occur in settings that completely lack market forces that might prompt carbon efficiency.  He then ticked through the things that might help generate some market functionality—things that could prompt companies, like for instance airlines, to step up and address their carbon issues.  Those tools include…wait for it…consumer engagement, widely available information, incentives.  He suggested a system to rate companies based on how those businesses address their carbon footprint.  It would, he noted, be quite important to report those measures publicly.  He described some matrix roll up scores that summarize past, present and future possible carbon efforts.  His system would rely on competition with financial incentives in which customers sought out companies with better scores—and rewarded those companies for decreasing their footprint.  One reason his points resonated—we designed our very own RWJF Aligning Forces for Quality based on many of the same tenets.  Of course, Aligning Forces is an effort to address a different, but arguably similarly intransigent complex adaptive system problem—stubbornly persistent mediocre health care quality and value.  Nevertheless, in Aligning Forces what tools did we and our experts land on?  You guessed it: consumer engagement, measuring and reporting, improvement resources, changing payment to reward better, more efficient care outcomes—all to correct a fundamentally dysfunctional marketplace. Sometimes a new idea, I guess, can also mean taking what we know and applying it, spreading it even, to new hard problems in different ways. 

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Pioneering Ideas blog.