A Catch-up with a Prolific Problem Solver
Interview with IdeaConnection problem solver and facilitator Charles John Bhaskar
By Paul Arnold
Charles John Bhaskar is Managing Director of GeoMarine Biotechnologies (P) Ltd, a biotechnology research company. He is also a prolific problem solver and facilitator with IdeaConnection. Charles has participated in no fewer than 30 challenges, and enjoys a high success rate.
In this interview he talks about how it’s possible to make a decent living by being a problem solver, and the many opportunities that IdeaConnection has given him.
Taking part in challenges is a learning experience. It’s not just about winning; it’s about a lot of learning. I tell my teams that even if you don’t win you win, because of the amount of learning you pick up. Even if the ideas you have worked on are rejected by the solution seeker, they can be employed for some other problems. In the teams, we are always inventing possibilities that have not been thought about before and this is something that is really interesting.
Aside from the financial rewards, what else do you gain by being a member of a problem solving team?
The first thing is that my field of expertise is widening and secondly, my confidence levels are increasing. I have always had a wide knowledge, and now it is deepening in many fields. This is helping me as a scientist in my professional life.
What types of challenges you have been involved with?
They encompass many fields including agriculture, genetic engineering, polymers and synthetic chemistry, and mechanical engineering.
It’s rare to find someone so adept in so many fields.
It’s not academic learning in all these fields. It’s an interest and reading widely and picking things up as you move along. It’s like a rolling stone that gathers moss. You’ve got to keep on moving to pick things up. I have always been like this. I wanted to be a scientist since I was a child. It was a choice rather than chance.
What do you like most about participating in the challenges?
I like taking up some of the more unusual challenges. But also, within teams I like the learning. Not only about science but also human behaviour and how to work in a multicultural environment. I am also a facilitator and I enjoy being able to create a flicker in a team member that could be fruitful. In all likelihood they have the knowledge or answer in some corner of their mind, but my question provokes them to get it out. This is a really wonderful experience when you can do this and learn from each other.
Is it possible for someone to make a living by being a problem solver?
Yes it is possible, and partly I have done this. It’s possible provided more and more companies come forward to give their challenges and problems for solving. Not only their theoretical challenges, but their practical ones too.
In the world we live in today companies should be able to contract people like me remotely. For example, they could pay a flat charge for a month and say ‘Come on Charles, give us the solution for this’. Solvers like me would be very happy to do this. We could make a good living and also we’d enjoy it. I really think this is possible.
In addition, IdeaConnection has also given me the opportunity to go into third party challenges. For example there was the ‘Global Energy Store Challenge’ in which I was selected as one of the eight finalists from all round the world. I was the only one from my country, India who was selected to go to the finals in London. It gave me nice publicity within the country and was a great opportunity. At the final I had to pitch side by side against other scientists and it was a wonderful experience, an exciting moment.
Even though I didn’t win, pitching in front of so many people, VCs and many investors was a good opportunity. The prize was $250,000 and the contest was sponsored by the US Office of Naval Research and the Office of Naval Research Global. The money would’ve changed my life, but opportunities will come out of it. For example, I may be entering into collaborations with some universities.
I’ve also looked back and learned from my mistakes to be better prepared for the next lot of big challenges.
What advice do you give to potential solvers who are thinking about participating in challenges?
Whether you are already a good solver or not, working on challenges really hones your skills. You will feel that it is worth it. The knowledge you accrue is not going to be taken away by anyone. You might sell the IP, but the basic knowledge you acquired to solve the problem is there in your brain. No one can take that from you.
Also, don’t lose heart if you lose a couple of challenges. Even in your losses you have gained. You still win with a losing solution.
And what advice would you give to companies?
They can do a lot of things. Of course, many of them do some of these things but my particular suggestions are that they shouldn’t just stick to the really big problems. They could save themselves a lot of time and money with global think tanks of solvers and utilise solvers even for a just a few hours to solve a problem. Maybe they pay $100 for something to be looked at.
I also think that sometimes seekers should be more specific about what they want and give more details to solvers, take them more into their confidence. With time they can select people they can really trust and are good solvers such as those with IdeaConnection. Then they can work more closely with them.