The InnoCentive Insider: Brevity is the Soul of Wit

Posted by Connie French on Nov 24, 2008 1:52:14 PM

In today's Client Services blog post, Peter explains why sometimes Challenge statements can seem a bit short on details...

Brevity is the soul of wit .... for the Seeker.

Have you ever wondered about the brevity of the InnoCentive Challenge statements? Isn't it a little puzzling that Seekers do not provide more detail on the history of their solution efforts? Wouldn't it be helpful to Solvers if a Seeker would put out all the information they have on a problem?

Yes, I agree: The challenge statements are often scarce of information. And yes, in many cases more background information would help to better characterize the problem and could help Solvers to come up with a better solution.

Well, then why do InnoCentive Challenge statements not include more details on problem background, application and industry? The answer is simple: Seekers often cannot disclose these details because they are confidential company information, or because they want to minimize the risk of inadvertently releasing proprietary knowledge about internal programs.

From the outset it was clear that InnoCentive will only be successful in engaging Seekers in Open Innovation if we take their need for confidentiality and intellectual property protection seriously. Those of you who have been working in a traditional R&D function where any information is highly proprietary and often jealously guarded will easily understand. In response to this Seeker need InnoCentive created a comprehensive suite of website supported processes, services and agreements which are designed to protect the confidentiality of the information presented in the Detailed Description of the Challenge. But even with these safeguards in place, Seekers feel rarely compelled to explain in excessive detail what the problem is about. Instead they prefer to describe the problem with a minimum of background information and without references to the application, product or industry. This is not true for all Challenges but for most of them. Some Seekers, like organizations in the not-for profit arena, are willing to disclose their name and the application of a potential problem solution. But this is the exception.

So you can imagine that the scientists in the Client Services Team are walking a fine line when formulating a Challenge Statement for a Seeker Client: On the one hand we have to make sure that the statement includes all the information necessary for solving the problem, on the other hand Seekers severely limit us in terms of the information we are allowed to disclose. Striking this balance can be very difficult, and despite many years of experience we do not get it always right and sometimes key information may have been unintentionally omitted in the Challenge formulation process. If you as a Solver feel that this is the case, you can ask for the desired piece of information using the message capability in your Project Room. If we know the answer to your question and if the desired information is not confidential, we will give it to you. If we do not know the answer to your question, we will forward your question to the Seeker. The Seeker can then decide what and how much information they are willing to provide. After we have heard back from the Seeker, we will forward the response to you. This may take some time as Seekers are not always immediately available. My recommendation is that you ask questions early in the posting period so that there remains sufficient time for the Seeker to reply and for you to use the information in your solution proposal. Sometimes, and in particular if multiple Solvers are asking the same question, we may post the question and the answer as a Q&A addendum to the Challenge. This will allow all participating Solvers to learn about the additional information. However, we are careful not to publicize questions and answers which would give away a Solver's idea or solution approach.

I hope that the explanations above will help you to better understand why the average InnoCentive Challenge is generally a "bare bones" description of the Seeker's problem. As I said, we take much care in creating Challenge statements which combine all information necessary for solving the problem. Still, if you feel that a piece of key information is missing, let us know and we may be able to help out with additional details.

Best wishes,


Topics: Challenges

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