Success with Every Challenge

Interview with IdeaConnection solver Daniel Sprockett
Problem solver Daniel Sprockett is an evolutionary developmental genetics researcher in the Kent State’s Anthropology Department. His areas of expertise include gene and genome evolution, the microbrium of the human body, and evolutionary development in fungi and metazoans.

Daniel has worked on an Idea Rally and an R&D problem solving challenge and has enjoyed success with both.

photo of Daniel SprockettWhat attracted you to Idea Connection?

What attracted me most was that you can be self-directed enough to choose your own projects that you want to work on, and how much time you want to put into them. Also, it’s a way to make money using the skills I have acquired in a different sort of forum.

Another outlet for your expertise?

Yes, actually yes, that's a good way of putting it.

What was nice was that it was very wide open. I worked on an Idea Rally about how to increase plant yield and they wanted any sort of modification of the plants, such as modification of inputs into the soil. And so I was able to focus on the things I knew about, and I didn't have to go read a bunch about the biochemistry of the Krebs cycle or something like that, because I only had to really engage with the things that I wanted to talk about.

So I had an idea that dealt with manipulating the microbial communities in the soils, and that's what my background is. I was able to stay focused on those discussions that are where my expertise lies, at my leisure.

How involved were you in the rally?

Basically I got an e-mail anytime anyone responded to anything I said, but I would, on top of that, also login periodically just to see if there were any other good ideas or similar ideas that we could build off of.

It was nice to be able to be focused on what I was interested in. But also it was wide open enough that I could put any kind of crazy idea out there, and if it wasn't a good idea it was pretty apparent.

Because of feedback from other solvers?

If it was a bad idea it would get down voted and ignored. What was nice was that there was a lot of active discussion on some really good ideas in terms of what's doable and we know about, what hasn't been explored yet, and how do we build on things that have been explored. So that's kind of how it worked for me, I was able to propose an idea, and people responded to it.

And you received some kind of financial reward for your ideas?

Yes, I received a $1,000 award for my input into the discussion. There wasn't a lot of hassle in terms of getting paid, it came relatively quickly. Until I had the check in hand I was a little hesitant because I didn't know anyone else that had used IdeaConnection. I really hadn't heard anything from any other websites about the review of how the process worked, and how well it worked, and whether it’s being evaluated fairly, and that kind of thing. But it turned out to be very positive for me.

What other challenges have you worked on?

I have worked on one other challenge, an R&D solving challenge with a team. That was more of a formal challenge, where it was "we need you to do this" and we were rewarded. I think we got 75% of the award, but it was well paid enough to make it worth the time that we put into it.

How did you find the experience of working on a virtual team where your colleagues are people you haven't met before, and are at different career stages?

It was actually a bit challenging to work with a very eclectic team. What was nice was that the challenge that we were working on lay at the intersection of two different fields, and so we were on a pretty good team that had a good mix of expertise on both sides of the aisle there.

So it got better as I got to understand where the other people were in their careers and what their background was in terms of whom should work on which part of the project, who should be working together, and who should be editing things in terms of making sure that everything is coherent. It got easier as it went on. There was a lot of standing off at the beginning.

When it came to arriving at a solution, were you all singing from the same hymn sheet pretty much from the start? Were there lots of discussions about, should we go this way or how about this way?

It was interesting because the question was sufficiently open-ended enough that there could've been potentially multiple specific ways to get to the right answer.

The first thing we did was a general literature search to see if anyone had done part of the challenge. And there was a lot of information already publicly available. What we did then was had a discussion online about which avenue would be the most fruitful, what do we need to do to expand what is already out there, and integrate it with other things that have been out there. You know there was no need to reinvent the wheel, in that case.

And it came out to be that we were all pretty much in agreement on how it was going to work, once we got over that stage of seeing what had already been done.

What next for you at IdeaConnection?

I would actually like to try my hand at facilitating as well, if it's in a field that I know little bit about because I know how difficult it can be to do things otherwise.

My experience was differently positive enough to participate in more challenges. I have won everything I’ve participated in, and I would definitely recommend it to my colleagues and friends.

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