The Camaraderie of the Idea Rally was ‘Exciting’

Interview with IdeaConnection problem solver, facilitator and Idea Rally moderator Lorenz Bauer.
By Paul Arnold
Lorenz Bauer is an inventor with 30 patents to his name in areas such as chemical reactions, biofuels and refining. He has been involved with IdeaConnection for about two years as a problem solver and a facilitator and most recently was the moderator of the Matrix Release Idea Rally.

This was an online gathering of 91 experts who brainstormed solutions for a chemistry challenge. The seeker was looking for novel ideas to improve the release of a low molecular weight, hydrophobic volatile compound embedded in a matrix composed of multiple materials

In this interview, Lorenz talks about the rally, how seekers can benefit from this open innovation model and what attracted him to IdeaConnection.

Lorenz BauerTo be honest there are two reasons I get involved with IdeaConnection. The primary one is that I've been an inventor my whole life and have 30 patents and I like learning new things. Plus I am semi-retired and have some extra time and I like the idea of working on problems I’d never thought of before and interacting with people. The rally was very interesting because there were so many people involved and commenting on the same topic. And of course there was the prize money but that was secondary.

How did your moderator role differ from that of being a facilitator?

When I facilitate I normally try to participate actively as an inventor the best I can and I try to provide more guidance. Here my job was more about prompting, making sure participants moved along and trying to dissuade people from going in the wrong direction.

Originally what we were working on was deliberately vaguely described in order to elicit a lot of extraneous and different responses. And so I deliberately did not constrain things at all. What I did was put in remarks that would prompt additional comments. But about a third of the way through the rally, I was told in confidence what the problem was and so without me revealing too much to the participants, I tried to cut back on some of the extraneous discussions that were leading in the wrong direction.

Did many participants stay all the way through?

That’s the most interesting thing that happened. There was a core group of about 15 to 20 people that were there the whole time and a core group of six or seven super users who were the ones who got a part of the prize money. They actually developed a friendly relationship. There was a community and people liked working with each other and wanted to work with each other after the rally.

That must’ve been quite something to be a part of.

I think that most of the people who get really involved in IdeaConnection and who really enjoy it aren’t there for the money they are there like I am for the interest in inventing and discussing with people. You meet people from all around the world and work on a project together and it is pretty exciting and you do develop relationships. Most of the people after a project are more than happy to work with you again. They want to work with you. It’s a common thing and it’s one of the big benefits of IdeaConnection.

From what I can tell a lot of the people are in situations like mine where I would say I am underemployed compared to where I used to be when I was running groups in a major company. So I have the time and energy to do it and these people seem to have that also.

Did this friendship this camaraderie help the creative process during the Idea Rally?

I think it must have helped. If you’re having a good time and feel that you’re in a nurturing and friendly environment you are more than happy to suggest something that is more outside of the norm. I’ve done a lot of facilitating and moderating and one of the things I’ve noticed is that some people are afraid of looking foolish and stupid but you don’t feel that with your friends. You have a certain protection and I think that’s what happened. And I think towards the end we were getting some pretty curious and out-of-the-box comments between each other which showed they were enjoying each other.

So the camaraderie was exciting but not particularly surprising to me. Back in the ancient days, I was a psychology major and I did a project as part of an independent study on group bonding. We set up small community groups of two or three people on the telephone and created artificial friendships so that we could study their development. And we saw the same kind of thing that attachment seems to build fast. There they weren’t doing any projects they were just people who agreed to participate in the study and that’s the same thing here, it is voluntary.

What are your thoughts on an Idea Rally as a way of ideating and advancing thoughts on particular problems?

IdeaConnection attracts a unique group of very skilled and intelligent people and to get so many of them to work on your problem for basically a very low cost is extraordinary. To have them as consultants would probably cost around $300 an hour. Well, they looked at this for 10 days and there were 91 of them, so just think about the value of that. It is extremely valuable.

Now, not everybody was as skilled as everybody else but we got very good results from about five or ten of them, which is a bargain really.

So it’s world-class brains looking at your problem at a fraction of the cost.

Yes of course, but you don’t get the focus that they would if they were hired. It is amazing the amount of work that gets done for the amount that is being offered. It is a bargain for the companies and the question is how useful the work is.

I’ve been on the other side too. I actually participated at my former company and outsourced for ideas, not with IdeaConnection, with another provider. I participated in that program as a seeker looking for solutions and I always thought it was very worthwhile.

Were you immediately seduced by the idea of going outside your four walls or did you need persuading?

We needed persuading. The general view was negative because people were saying: “well how could someone who’s not an expert like us come up with something that we haven’t thought of. It’s an insult to some extent.” Well, it was for some people, but not for me because I’ve always been open minded and that’s why I think I was selected to participate. And it’s probably one of the reasons why I have numerous patents because I’m open minded. But it was a difficult thing for some people to let go and realize they are not the font of all ideas.

And the other thing is that it is really easy to be negative because most of the ideas suggested might have been thought of before. You are looking for a gem among a pile of less valuable minerals. But I am very positive about the whole thing.

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