We have been reporting on the format of teh "Seeks Solution" conferences before. The idea is both simple and surprisingly effective: turn a scientific conference upside down: Skip the presentation of successful research and undertakings and focus, together, on what is really interesting for everybody: challenges yet unsolved.
The event in question is, of course, the by now fairly popular series of "Seek Solutions" conferences.
Since the first conference in Quebec, things have evolved and been refined. Christophe Deutsch of En Mode Solutions, the organization now planning and executing solution-seeking conferences in innovative hubs around the world, has kindly agreed to answer some of our questions on the concept, its evolution and the future - and how you can be part of it.
FTP: Christophe, your "seek solutions" program takes a slightly different approach to problem solving than usual. Can you explain in some brief words how it works and what makes it special?
CD: We have developed a 4-Step Process that has given, over the years, great results!
1 -Call for Problems: The promoter of the event asks his community to submit complex problems that defy the standard analyses of his experts in the field.
2 - Formulate Selected Problems: We help the promoter to select the problems most likely to garner interest at the event and to formulate them so that they can be more easily shared. An expert of the problem’s domain, called an ambassador in our case, is put in contact with the solution seeker. Just by asking some basic questions, the ambassador is able to help the solution seeker further define the problem and ensure that the description that will ultimately be posted on a web-based platform is sufficiently clear and broad.
3 - Disseminate to a wider community – Problem broadcast: We disseminate the problems to be addressed to a vast range of specialists in a variety of fields. They can provide a different outlook on the problems raised, ask preparatory questions and participate in the event. Broadcast is done through a web-based platform including as much information as possible, such as figures, references, or details of failed solutions.
Two strategies are employed during the problem-broadcast step. A general broadcasting approach ensures that everyone who thinks they could help has the opportunity to participate. A targeted broadcast to specialists based on expectations about what type of expertise might be relevant to a particular problem is also used in parallel.
4 – Seeking Solutions Events: The last step is what differentiates the Seeking Solutions approach from other open innovation techniques, because it involves a real event where non-virtual collaboration arises. Solution seekers and problem solvers come together during a full-day session to focus on the selected problems. Careful preparation is required to ensure maximum output from the event. The collaboration process is divided into three phases: i) divergence, ii) exploration, and iii) convergence. Our facilitation methods allow for significant and creative interaction with experts who are normally not part of the same networks, and take full advantage of the “cross-pollination” of brainpower effect.
You’ll be surprised to see that creative solutions have been found to your complex problems in environments completely different from your own.
FTP: From your website one can tell that you have been organizing a number of solution seeking conferences in the past. What did you learn from these? (How) did the concept evolve over time?
CD: The call for problems for the first event – Quebec Seeks Solutions (QSS) – was launched in June 2010. Ten problems were submitted by nine industrial companies from the Quebec City area. The problems were broadcasted online in early November 2010. On December 14, 2010, 175 people gathered at the Convention Centre in Quebec City to attend the first problem-solving conference (Quebec Seeks Solutions).
For this first event, the largest perceived gain was:
- Networking outside the "normal" network,
- The generation of new ideas for applications
- A better understanding of the problem
- Initiation of research contracts with real benefits and return on investment for the companies
A second edition of Quebec Seeks Solutions took place in May 2012. Nine solution-seeking companies and 162 problem solvers participated in the two-day event. The outcomes were as good as the first edition with some very nice success stories as a bonus.
In June 2012, we conducted a workshop on the same basis at the ISPIM Conference in Barcelona, Spain. The process was slightly adapted to the duration of the event and the context of the conference. The workshop lasted less than two hours and the call for problems was for innovation management issues only. Thirteen problems were submitted and 5 were selected for the workshop. The solution seekers appreciated the experience even though it only gave them a preview of what could be achieved in a full-day event.
What we first learned so far is that the intellectual-property issues that our detractors raise are not a problem, mainly because the event in itself is an exploration where everybody feels free to contribute. Intellectual-property challenges typically arise "downstream" from this initial exploration.
Secondly, there is a real value in local open innovation. Some people say “Why connect locally when you can connect easily to the world nowadays?” The answer is simple. Because a combination of open innovation and collaboration on a local scale brings most of the benefits… without the potential inconvenience of cultural differences! Often the seeker and the solver need to engage in collaborative research activities to achieve the solution. Here, a regional conference offers much better opportunities than a worldwide web platform.
Finally, it’s the importance of the collaboration process in itself. The animation of such a conference cannot be done in a conventional manner. The animators have to be experimented with large groups and able to adapt depending on what happens.
Our approach is in constant evolution and we still experiment during each event. For example at some point in 2012, we tried a two days event in order to see if the evening could bring some special collaborations or new ideas. And in November this year, we will introduce a technology push through a technology platform that local R&D centers possess in our Quebec Seeks Solutions event. This may give ideas for new problems or technology transfer and generate even more results!
FTP: You have three new conferences planned for 2013, in June, September and November. Can you tell us a bit about these? What to expect? Any big changes?
CD: Yes, indeed, the Seeks Solutions approach is spreading around!
- 2nd ISPIM Seeks Solutions, June 18, 2013 – Helsinki, Finland. A large conference is a great place to explore problems because you have experts from all around the world that can participate. I predict that you should see a lot more of these workshops in the future in numerous conferences because they offer a great way to collaborate and network!
- Polymères en mode solutions, September 26, 2013 – St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Canada. Sponsored by the Quebec Plastic Industry Consortium tihis one day event will focus on this industrial sector only. Plastic companies will submit problems they experiment but we may also have other industrial companies that submit problems which could be solved by the plastic industry.
- 3rd Quebec Seeks Solutions, November 5-6, 2013 - This is where it all started! And in addition this year is the Seeking Solutions Summit - Methods and Policies Creating a Local Ecosystem for Technology Transfer, Collaboration, and Local Innovation. This is where we hope the open innovation world community will meet this fall!
Several other events are in the midst for Canadian cities, industries and conferences! Stay tuned!
FTP: Pretending I was a company with a problem I would like to have solved. What do I do to profit from "seek solutions"?
CD: It’s very easy. You submit your problem to any upcoming event we have on our calendar at www.enmodesolutions.com/en or contact Yahya Baby (firstname.lastname@example.org) to discuss about holding your own event in your area.
FTP: In my understanding you are offering to organize problem solving conferences internationally, not only in Canada. How can communities or administrations contact you for talks about hosting a conference? How does the organizational process work?
CD: Yes our team is ready and eager to work a lot more overseas even though we are very busy as it is. The best way to engage into this process is to contact Yahya Baby via email email@example.com or by phone at 581-996-6778. Once we become involved, we help the promoters organizing a successful event every step of the way.
FPT: From your experiences so far, do you think that this and other forms of open problem solution concepts are already well-accepted? Do they work? Or: what needs still to be done to unleash their full potential?
CD: Open innovation and open problem solving approaches require a change of mindset to reach full potential. A change of mindset most often requires a pain or an enormous challenge to work it’s way. The current economical context in Europe and North America is a good enabler I would think! Because status quo is not an answer for anyone, in any type of industry and in any country right now!
Many problems that the companies are facing today are complex because they mix technical, environmental, social, and political issues. To face this growing complexity, classical problem-solving methodologies are no longer appropriate. The Seeking Solutions approach has the potential to address the complex challenges of the next decade and we believe that it can help us to migrate from a collection of intelligences to a real collective intelligence. The next step is to encourage more and more companies to try local open innovation and to convince local governments to support this movement.
FTP: Christophe, many thanks for these extensive insights into your visions. It will certainly be a plasure to be part of a future solution seeking event again and I wish you all the best for this venture!
If you are interested in more information about En Mode Solutions and the conference format - or want to get in touch about hosting a conference yourself - please see the official website.