Excited by Solving Problems Quicker or Better than Others

Interview with IdeaConnection problem solver Reuben Oder
By Paul Arnold
Reuben Oder is an open innovation thought leader, who enjoyed a long and successful career at Procter and Gamble. He now runs Reuben Oder Innovations, LLC, a consulting firm that guides companies as they discover how to customize and successfully deploy proven OI approaches.

For most of his innovation career Reuben has been a seeker, but he recently joined an IdeaConnnnection challenge team and experienced what it was like to be a solver. The team was successful and in this interview Reuben talks about his approach to problem solving, what seekers can learn from his experience, and why he decided to try open innovation from the other side.

It was actually a mixture of things. First of all, it tapped into my technical background, specifically around molding. Secondly I am trying to earn some extra income to protect my nest egg. And then I was just curious about seeing the other side of open innovation.

What appeals to you about problem solving?
I grew up originally doing technical work but then my career went in other directions and I got to do less technical stuff and I missed it. I always liked solving a problem and I think it’s for a number of reasons. One is when you solve it, there’s a feeling like something chemically is happening in your body and you release endorphins.

Secondly, there’s this competitive nature. You’re competing against others to solve the problem, and you get the satisfaction of having solved the problem quicker or better than others.

Also, part of this problem had a chemistry aspect to it and I tell people that I am ‘chemistry challenged’. So getting out of my comfort zone and trying to solve something where I had to go educate myself on the Internet and/or with the team and/or with a seeker was attractive as well. If I can contribute to an area that’s not my technical background then that’s pretty cool too.

How did you go about solving this particular problem?
This one worked out pretty much how my other experiences have been with problem solving. I like to start thinking about a problem insulated from the details of the project, free from the contamination of other inputs.

So I have my own thoughts and then I started working with the team and saw the work done to date by the seeker. These other inputs and perspectives then started to shape how I thought about the problem. Also, when I solve problems I personally try to stay skeptical and not go down paths that have been done to date.

How did you find the experience of working in a team?
The team interaction is interesting because the other folks on the team did not have the same kind of technical background. So their naivety or their lack of experience allowed them to ask questions and maybe even question paradigms that someone who does have the technical background would not do. And I saw value in that.

Having said that, team members have to be what we call a good corporate citizen. You have responsibilities within a team and its okay to have wild ideas. But I think you have a responsibility to do your research and understand more. If you’re saying something out of ignorance you have the responsibility to go educate yourself.

So I watched that for my fellow team members. It was obvious who had spent some time trying to educate themselves so they could contribute at a higher level. My respect for team members rise or diminishes based on the effort that it’s obvious they’re putting into the team.

The diversity of expertise is also important and I thought IdeaConnection did a pretty good job there. But with hindsight it could have been a little better but that’s only because some of the nuances of the problem revealed themselves the deeper we got into it.

Having successfully solved this particular challenge, will you take on more?
Well it’s interesting because I’ve worn both hats. But I would definitely join one of these teams again. A lot of the experiences I had and a lot of the concerns I had will be alleviated now because I’ve been educated. It’s like you have to go through one of these and experience it in order to feel confident and feel comfortable, that is comfortable with the fact that you’re always asking yourself is this worth my time.

There’s also something I want to communicate to seekers and I never appreciated this at my former employer until I played the solver role. Because people are willing to join teams and work on problems I feel like the seeker has a responsibility in a couple of ways. One is to set them up for success, and so articulating the problem well is even more pronounced as a seeker than it ever was with my former employer. I get it.

It’s always been important, but I’ve got more of an appreciation of that now. And having said that it would be a good idea if a seeker lets some of their people experience what I have experienced. That would really drive it home for them.

Where I’m going with that is to suggest to seekers to have some sort of way of letting their internal people experience open innovation as a solver. There are a lot of different ways that can be done, but in so doing they are going to be much better at doing open innovation internally.

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