MIT Will Pay You $250,000 for Breaking the Rules

It’s safe to say that 'disruption' and 'innovation' serve as trigger words for companies looking to shake up the industry.

After looking at MIT's recent moves, however, it seems that there might be a new buzz word guiding investment and attention from stakeholders in our innovation community: 'disobedience'.

On Tuesday, March 7, MIT began accepting applications for its first ever “Disobedience Award” which awards $250,000 to an individual or group responsibly and ethically pushing boundaries. The award recognizes rule-breakers across a variety of disciplines, from scientific research to freedom of speech.

“The recipient must have taken a personal risk in order to affect positive change for greater society,” according to the contest guidelines.

The objectives of the award are to build awareness and support disobedient work, while also showcasing role models for younger people.

According to the lab's press release, the idea for the award "came after a realization that there’s a widespread frustration from people trying to figure out how can we effectively harness responsible, ethical disobedience aimed at challenging our norms, rules, or laws to benefit society."

In essence, break the rules. And get rewarded for it.

While the award may sound unconventional, Peter Marton, the director of entrepreneurship partnerships at Boston University’s BUzz Lab, suggested that MIT is touching upon some of the traditional tenets of the entrepreneurship community.

“I think what trying to do is reach into one of the fundamental principles of entrepreneurship,” he told me. “Sometimes, entrepreneurs they violate conventional wisdom, they do things that other people wouldn't do or risks that other people wouldn't. They run counter to the way most people run.”

Marton, who works with a variety of student, alumni and faculty-led startups at Boston University’s Questrom School of Business, explained that disobedience is still a fairly rare trend in his startup hemisphere. He added that in other disciplines, such as global studies, often touch upon entrepreneurial projects that are “far braver, and bolder.”

He described the award as a “bold move,” by MIT, and explained that the award’s stress on legitimacy is noteworthy.

“There’s always been people that pushed the limits, and so there’s always been a spectrum of entrepreneurial bearing. However, some entrepreneurs go too far, some...break ethical boundaries, some break laws, some entrepreneurs rebellious beyond what society would consider to be accessible,” he said. “I think MIT is trying to strike a balance.”

The award stresses that any nominees must be “consistent with a set of key principles,” suggesting non-violence, responsibility and ethical allegiance.

“It looks like they’re saying get to the extreme edge, but don’t go too far,” he said.

The MIT Media Lab will be taking applications until May 1. The winner will be announced on July 21. Apply here.

Image via Flickr

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