The Opportunity to Work with Bright Minds

Interview with an IdeaConnection Facilitator
Jason Reed was born and educated in the UK. Following university he worked as a systems developer for Littlewoods Home Shopping and then ran his own IT solutions company for 10 years. Currently he's a consultant and a coach focusing on online collaboration. So he is a ideally suited to be a facilitator.

He spoke to IdeaConnection about his experience of the 19 challenges he's worked on.

What attracted you to IdeaConnection?
A number of things really. A lot of my role involves facilitation and so there's an interest in that as well as an interest in innovation. Also the fact that my focus over the past year or so has been online collaboration. I've actually developed a course in online collaboration and a website, my whole brand is about that. I work with people to enable them to take advantage of working with others wherever they are.

How many challenges have you worked on?
I'm on challenge number 19 at the moment.

Have you met with much success?
I have had some success, but the challenge is that it's quite a long wait between submitting a proposal and finding out if you have been successful or not. It's not the sort of thing where you do a challenge and then 30 days later someone says "hey you've won and here's the money." It's a slower term thing.

What are some of the challenges that you have worked on?
The variety of challenge topics has been amazing. Going from marketing and business based challenges all the way through to some very detailed science challenges dealing with nanoparticles, and medical challenges. It's a wide range. They are all very interesting; anything to do with outer space is quite interesting.

I think what I find though is the most amazing thing is the people you get to work with. There are some very interesting people, the vast majority of whom are incredibly committed to working on these problems and incredibly talented in whatever their specialty is.

I think IdeaConnection as an organization does a great job in selecting the right people for the teams. For example, one team I was working on there was somebody who was entering a Nobel Prize winning application at the time he was taking part in the challenge.

So, some serious brainpower?
Oh yes, definitely. And as a facilitator, although I may not know as much about the particular technical field they are working on, I work with them to enable them to work through the problem.

What skills do you possess to enable you to be a good facilitator?
I think there are two main aspects to it. One is being comfortable with technology and trying to make the technology be as transparent as possible to the people working on the teams, and making sure that things run smoothly. And the other part is that my background is in project management and team coaching so it's really sitting back to a certain extent and enabling the team to get on with the work, but keeping focused on the process in terms of deadlines.

Is it important for the team members to have a rapport with each other? Is it necessary for creativity and innovation?
I feel like I want to say ‘yes.' But I think it's recognized that this is a very different environment. You have people working together effectively even though they are from different cultures from different time zones and sometimes the challenge time is fairly minimal. So this is where a facilitator can be quite important. So in spite of there not being enough time for a rapport to grow the challenge is met. That's not say that the rapport doesn't get built. Sometimes it does and it's fantastic, but other times it's at a fairly low level.

As a facilitator it is my job to build up a rapport with each individual member of the team.

What is the value of having a team of different backgrounds, disciplines and cultures?
I think it's amazingly valuable, and this is something that couldn't happen without online collaboration, it couldn't happen without IdeaConnection bringing these people together. If you're a company and you just went to a university department, the people might all have expertise in a field, but it's the different perspectives that wouldn't be there. So being able to bring people together with different views from around the world is great.

How does the ThinkSpace help with the challenges?
It's really important for teams online to work effectively, to have a workspace where you can work on things at a different time as well as have a meeting technology. These are some of the functions built into ThinkSpace. It provides us with a central starting point.

What other think tools do you use to help you solve a challenge?
What I tend to do is to focus on the team. Each team is very different and I focus on the team that's there, what their abilities are and how they work. And I try and work with any methodologies and approaches they use. For example there was a challenge I was working on and a team member was involved intensively in new product development. He's got a very comprehensive approach toward selecting new products so that's been brought into the team. But generally we go through a phase of analyzing the problem, generating ideas, and then developing a proposal.

What's the most satisfying part of working with teams on these challenges?
It's really the opportunity to work with such bright minds from very different fields. There's a lot of learning that goes on. I learn about lots of different areas such as manufacturing, nanoparticles, medical science, spaceflight and marketing. Just getting different individual perspectives is very rewarding. I love to have a final product and this is what this does. You focus and produce a proposal that at the end of the day is the best that can be done by the team you've got within the timescale. There are some really goods solutions that come up and it's great to look back and think we did something really good there. There's some good thinking that's gone into that.

Overall, what are your thoughts about IdeaConnection?
I think IdeaConnection is bringing in something that's new. It's early days in terms of this online collaborative problem solving, so it's exciting to be a part of it. And the team working aspect just brings something really different to this open innovation. I think it's going to have a great future and be a great way for organizations to bring something into their organization from the outside. It has an incredible value in terms of the expertise they will be able to get, and the different perspectives from different cultures that they can engage through these teams.

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