Help a Solver Succeed - What problem solving routines are successful?

Posted by Connie French on Nov 24, 2009 4:29:29 PM


Peter Lohse InnoCentive Client Services

In today’s installment of “Help a Solver Succeed” (HASS), where we ask InnoCentive experts to provide resources that they think might be helpful to you in solving Challenges, Peter Lohse talks about the InnoCentive Solver Study conducted by the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Indiana University – Bloomington.

At InnoCentive we strive to provide our Solvers with the best tools and processes in support of their solution efforts. We plan, build and deploy these services based on Solver’s needs and the resources we have at hand. While we make every effort to frame and support a successful Challenge process, we rely on our Solvers for performing the creative part of process. This key step of our value chain is in your, the Solvers hands. We rely on your know-how, skills and commitment to submit solutions which our Seekers value and award. Without your creativity and work no problems would be solved and no business was possible.

Even though InnoCentive does not “own”’ the creative step of the innovation process we have a deep interest in understanding the prerequisites and conditions of successful solving routines. This has many reasons, the most important being our realization that we can effectively support this process only if we understand the factors which are indicative for success. No doubt problem solving routines are different from person to person and depend on the education, work experience etc. Nevertheless, there may be a preferred routine underlying successful solution finding efforts. Earlier this year, we launched a collaboration to study these questions with researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Indiana University – Bloomington.

In short, our research was designed to help determine why some Solvers are more successful than others. To answer this and other questions, we combined a web-based survey of the knowledge, problem solving routines, motivations, resource investments, and characteristics of InnoCentive’s external problem Solvers with an examination of secondary data regarding their solution submission activity. A survey was fielded by the research team in spring 2009 and was sent to approximately 1,600 Solvers who had submitted solutions to Theoretical and Reduction-to-Practice Challenges during 2007 and 2008. Nearly 500 Solvers responded to this survey and many provided qualitative comments and suggestions. The results from this research will be published in detail some time down the road. For the purpose of this Blog though, I want to give a short summary of our key findings, problem solving tips and an outlook on some exciting future research.

Findings: Nature of Successful Solvers
The results show that average successful Solvers invest a much larger amount of time and money than unsuccessful Solvers. Moreover, successful Solvers tend to rely on deliberate, analytical solving routines. They pay attention to the details of the challenge and thoroughly consider the relevant information instead of only relying on their intuition and making ‘off the head’ decisions.

However, our analysis also shows that deliberate, analytical solving routines lead only in combination with high time investment to solving superior performance. If Solvers devote only a little time to problem solving, then having creative routines such as thinking "outside the box" and generating solutions that no one else will conceive, can be more successful than analytical routines.

Successful Solvers are also highly intrinsically motivated and gain satisfaction from challenge solving. However, successful Solvers are also motivated by the award money. Moreover, in comparison to unsuccessful Solvers, successful Solvers submit more frequently, draw on formal reports and scientific articles rather than on their personal practical know-how and rules of thumb to solve Challenges.

Tips for problem solving
Based on the investigated Challenges and on our analysis, successful Solvers…

  1. Devote considerable time to understand Challenges and to develop solutions
  2. Become familiar with the Challenge task by breaking it down into smaller parts and by paying attention to every detail
  3. Develop a solution based on a logical, step-by step approach and weighing logical arguments rather than relying on intuition and flashes of insight
  4. Craft solutions in a very structured manner
  5. Analyze prior solving attempts and learn from successes and failures

In sum, the results suggest that successful external problem Solvers are largely defined by their willingness to devote time together with their analytical routines.

Overall the results of this study confirmed our perception of successful solving routines. In this respect the tips for problem solving listed above are not different from what we have recommended before, but are congruent and somewhat more granular than what we have said in the past. Having statistically validated data to support our past recommendations certainly put my scientist mind at ease.

While the findings were no surprise to us, some of the statistics which resulted from the study caught my attention and are worth highlighting: For example, of the all the Solvers who had submitted to Theoretical and Reduction-to-Practice Challenges during 2007 and 2008, almost 10% were successful with winning an award! I think this number is absolutely stunning and contrasts the sentiment that the chance of winning on InnoCentive is vanishingly small due to the large size of the Solver Community. This is clearly not the case as the numbers show. In contrary, simply by submitting Solvers already have a reasonably good chance of winning. This also means that an above average proposal has an excellent chance of winning an award. I think this is great news for every Solver who is committed to submitting a quality proposal!

While the study emphasizes the importance of spending time on deliberate solving routines, it also yielded some interesting findings as to what solving routine is successful under what circumstances. The better we understand the relationships between Solver characteristics, solving routine and problem information the better we will be able to match Solver with Challenge for a successful outcome, and the further we can move away from a highly parallel solution approach closer to a more targeted match between problem and Solvers. This would save time and resources for all stakeholders involved and really would be a step forward in terms of Innovation efficiency.


Topics: Solvers

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