I’m a Solver: Mike Cirella

Posted by TimOBrien on Jun 19, 2012 2:18:38 PM

Mike Cirella recently won the Cleveland Clinic Challenge: Implantable Micro-sensor for Displacement & Mechanical Load. Previously, he received awards for three Challenges: Thresholds for Perception of Color Differences, Manufacturing of a Porous Film, and Task Light Charging.


Open innovation (OI) is a powerful platform that fosters creative thinking about problems that may be far outside a Solver’s daily routine. It provides an opportunity to apply diverse experiences that often lead to solutions never before considered. So often the ‘dumb’ questions are not asked by individuals studying problems from the perspective of someone inside an organization. The power of OI is much like a brainstorming session, where no question or suggested solution is off limits, thereby opening up the possibilities for a truly creative, even unique, solution.

It is precisely for these reasons that I am an active Solver. I have submitted many more proposed solutions than I have won, but each effort leads me down a new path and expands my knowledge for the next Challenge. The process allows me to ask "why not" instead of "why," or worse, not ask at all since it is so far outside the normal approach.

For me, the common thread that links my winning solutions is the “Eureka moment” I experience after reading the Challenge description the first time and relate it to a past experience and solution to a problem in an entirely different field. Of course, many hours of research, organizing and fine-tuning my submission follows that moment, but the creative idea is formed by thinking laterally; searching my experience database for a tool or method that can be applied to a problem in a completely different area.

The Task Light Charging (aka Bogolight) Challenge sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation triggered my memory of how modern coin acceptors in vending machines function reliably in harsh environments by eliminating moving parts that wear and corrode. Since the task light required a rugged, off-grid method for re-charging its batteries that supplemented the existing photocell method, I applied wind and water power, converted to electricity via permanent magnets spinning past induction coils embedded in a plastic housing. No metal parts exposed and high inherent reliability.

The Manufacturing of a Porous Film Challenge had an obvious solution (to me) by applying methods used in the paper and plastics web production industries. Again, a past life experience at a company that manufactured polarizers for sunglasses prompted me to apply my knowledge of web rollers and controls and create a simple, inexpensive solution.

The Thresholds for Perception of Color Differences Challenge in pharmaceutical applications peaked my interest as it applied past experience and present activities with color vision, digital imaging, and photographic systems. The ability of the eye-brain system to precisely detect differences when pre-conditioned to known light levels and color content is studied very closely in the photographic world. That knowledge could be applied to this Challenge.

The Cleveland Clinic Challenge was particularly interesting to solve since the Clinic is focused on expediting medical care and advancing biomedical research, areas that affect everyone. The impact of helping with that effort by solving one of their Challenges is potentially high and well worth an extraordinary effort. The fact that I have personally experienced joint rehabilitation after torn-ACL surgery added to my perspective of the problem. Applying a technology that has its roots in the communications industry (another area from my past experiences) led to a powerful method for monitoring joint repair progress in a non-invasive fashion.

In all cases, I try to practice the ‘Medici Effect’ coined by Frans Johansson and illustrated so eloquently in his book, The Medici Effect. That is, most breakthrough innovation results from the intersection of ideas from different fields. As Dwayne Spradlin described in a 2009 presentation about creating a creative culture to promote innovation, uniquely prepared minds are everywhere. The key is to provide fertile ground for those minds to address tough problems with a totally different perspective.

InnoCentive, as a facilitator of Challenge Driven Innovation, offers the diverse array of uniquely prepared minds an opportunity to apply their knowledge in a creative way, addressing a problem through the mind of someone that would normally never be exposed to it without open innovation. Take on a Challenge! Who knows where it will lead?

Mike Cirella

Topics: Solvers

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