Open Innovation: A Systematic Approach to Defining the Challenge for a Winning Solution

Posted by Connie French on Mar 23, 2010 11:39:31 AM

Harvey and Marian ArbesmanToday's guest post is provided by winning InnoCentive Solver  Harvey Arbesman, and his wife Marian Arbesman.  Harvey won the Discovery Prize and the Thought Prize in the Prize4Life ALS Challenge. Harvey and Marian are innovation consultants who in 2002 founded ArbesIdeas, Inc., a research and consulting company devoted to innovation in the life sciences.  They'll be contributing to this blog from time to time as part of our "Help a Solver Succeed" series.

“Discovery consists of seeing what everybody else has seen and thinking what nobody else has thought.” Albert Szent-Gyorgyi


What’s your vision for solving a Challenge?  Before you start working on a new project, how do you imagine yourself tackling the Challenge? Some people may imagine themselves struggling and toiling away in the middle of the night, while others see themselves walking along a windswept beach waiting for the moment when a great solution seems to come out of nowhere.  I'd like to share with you our approach for taking on and defining new Challenges, one that combines a variety of proven techniques for increasing innovation. While we may not be able to help you get around working in the middle of the night, and we definitely can’t provide the beach, we can help you with a streamlined and systematic approach that can take away some of the angst of finding new solutions and hopefully even make it fun.

The InnoCentive Solver community is enormous and diverse. Not only are Solvers found all over the world, but also they come from many different disciplines and have varying levels of expertise solving complex problems. This blog targets many different kinds of Solvers:  people interested in solving a problem who need some help to get started; those who have previously submitted solutions (and maybe even won), but would like some help making it happen more quickly; and those who are novices in a given area and need some ideas for how to get started.

Research consistently shows that innovation and creativity can be improved by learning specific strategies and methods. A systematic approach to problem solving is useful as it helps one first develop a firm grasp of the problem being solved, then moves on to the generation of lots of potential solutions for a problem, which is then followed by a third stage that helps the Solver pick the best potential solution and develop that solution. By leveling the problem solving playing field, a Solver is able to grasp concepts outside of his or her field, and bring well-developed expertise to the table.

A new Challenge arrives in your inbox, and before the adrenaline rush begins, you may start to question your expertise. Here are two simple steps to help you get a good handle on the Challenge and overcome those feelings of “no, this one just isn’t for me”.

Step 1. Read the Challenge and all of its details

Step 2. Read the Challenge again and immerse yourself in the problem that you are trying to solve. Really look at it and understand what the question/Challenge means. The Message Center in your project room is a great resource to ask the very qualified staff at InnoCentive for any clarifications that you need regarding the Challenge. How one person understands a question may differ from how it is viewed by another, and possibly may differ from how the Seeker views it (and in this case, the Seeker is the key interpreter of the question).  In addition, as you play with the Challenge in this early stage, get some feedback from friends, colleagues and family members, and start to think about a variety of ways how you might approach the problem, and what types of information and resources you would need to understand the Challenge.

Immersing yourself in the Challenge is the best way to be ready to develop new solutions to a problem. In future posts we will be discussing other ways (e.g., mapping the problem) to extend the immersion process. Immersing yourself in the Challenge helps you not get stuck in a given thought pattern and frees you to look at the Challenge from a totally different perspective than from your initial reaction to the Challenge.  Have fun with it, and keep in mind that this may be an opportunity to help change the world!

Harvey Arbesman, MD, MS
Marian Arbesman, PhD, OTR/L

Topics: Innovation Insights, Challenges

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