Green Power Solution

Interview with IdeaConnection Problem Solver
David Leithauser, a solver from the United States majored in physics for two years before switching to marine engineering and then finally to electrical engineering. He has a broad background in science and engineering and devours scientific literature.

When not running his software company he looks for exciting and challenging problems to solve, and spoke to journalist and writer Paul Arnold about his experience with IdeaConnection.

photo of David LeithauserWhat inspired you to join IdeaConnection?
One of the things I would like to be is a freelance inventor but my difficulty has always been finding something that needed to be invented. I'm good at solving problems and finding out what a problem is – I have lots of ideas. But I tended to find that when I came up with a good idea for an invention, somebody had already done it.

And so here at IdeaConnection is a situation where people are coming to me with problems that I can then try and solve. I'm a good person to have on a team because I have such a diversified background and the fact that I'm a real science geek. I am interested in just about every area of science and engineering there is.

How many challenges have you been involved in?
I have been involved in 7 challenges so far. One of the solutions has been accepted by the seeker and we won the financial award, and I'm still waiting to hear back from the seekers of the others. One of the challenges was an open innovation contest that I took a quick stab at.

What was the winning challenge you worked on?
This was work on the Smart Grid; specifically the seeker had a number of concerns about the difficulty of integrating small scale renewable energy sources like individual homes with solar panels into the Smart Grid. So it was a series of five or six potential problems that the seeker wanted us to analyze to see if the problems were serious, and if so, could come up with solutions for them? We were able to address all the problems and proscribe the reasons why we thought some wouldn't be a serious predicament, as well as coming up with solutions to those aspects that would be problematic. The seeker liked what we did and gave us the reward.

What did the financial reward mean to you?
It's very nice. First of all it's a nice way to supplement your income. And of course it's very rewarding intellectually to come up with solutions to problems.

How long has it taken you to solve some of the challenges?
It's hard to say, I don't keep track of the time they all take, but I would say probably a solution is found in a two to three week period.

Do you have an inkling of the answer to a challenge before you work on it?
I usually don't accept a challenge unless I have at least some idea of how to start. I wouldn't want to go into a group like that saying I would help solve the problem if I didn't feel like I could.

How did you find the mix of different cultures and disciplines?
I would say there's been no difficulty with the diversity. I think the important thing in the team is to have a couple of people with different types of expertise so they can each contribute something different to it. For example if you have a problem that involves a mathematical analysis of a biological situation you need to have a mathematician and a biologist so they can combine their talents. It's very important that the people setting up the teams make sure there are different types of expertise on them.

How important is the facilitator's role?
That depends on the team members and I'm personally a real go-getter so I tend to take over the role of the facilitator. As soon as I get on a team I always usually contact the team members to get started.

What are the best parts of working through challenges via IdeaConnection?
If you pick challenges you are interested in there is the intellectual challenge, plus it's the idea that you are getting paid for something you consider fun. And then there's the satisfaction that you might also be working on something extremely worthwhile like solving a problem in the developing world.

What do you think about IdeaConnection?
I think it's a good idea to have this type of thing to bring people together to solve problems. On the one hand the problems get solved, and then if there's a benefit to humanity it's nice to get those problems solved too.

You see the seekers have been unable to solve the problem themselves and this way they get a solution. If you look at it from the point of view of a company they can spend a lot of time interviewing people to try and put a team together. They give them salaries and may be they come up with the solution and then again maybe not. Instead of them going out and trying to find the best people to solve the problem, they can get a lot of people solving it and then pick the best solution rather than trying to pick the best people.

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