The Sweet Smell of Success with Manure Challenge

Interview with IdeaConnection problem solver Richard Schauer.
By Paul Arnold
Since signing up as a problem solver in 2010 Richard Schauer has worked on a handful of challenges and recently enjoyed some success when his team provided the winning solution for a life cycle of manure project.

He brings more than four decades worth of chemical industry experience to challenge teams. This encompasses running his own consultancy business that specializes in the regulations impacting industrial chemical products.

In this interview Richard talks about problem solving skills and his experience as the inventor of a novel mouth rinse solution.


RichardI enjoy the collaborative aspect of the projects. The fascinating part is that we sometimes had people on four continents, although that has meant that timing can be really hard. It is very intellectually stimulating to work and meet other solvers online and to go into the literature and get ideas.

How do you arrive at the one solution that you all agree best solves the challenge?

On one project I worked on I put forward a Kepner Tregoe decision-making process that I learned a long time ago. The team adopted it and we took all our solutions and were able to numerically rate them. That was the way we came up with the solution that we sent in. So it was an analytical process. The first thing we did was try to get as many solutions on the table as we could, you know like brainstorming.

So, do you like to have lots of ideas on the table before you start judging them – just get the ideas out there?

Well, I’m a little vein. I’d like to have my solution adopted as the only one, but no, I think it’s a great idea to have everybody get their ideas out. On one project a fella down in Brazil had lots and lots of ideas. The rest of us had ideas too, but he had ideas all the time. He was at a university and had access to all the journals which I don’t myself. I think that’s important to have a team member who can dig into the literature to see what’s out there.

What problem were you attempting to solve with the life cycle of manure challenge?

The seeker wanted to know about the environmental effects of applying manure to crop lands, the environmental fate such as leaching down into the groundwater and so on. To come up with our solution we had to use a lifecycle analysis modelling program. The seeker also wanted us to have a journal article published and that’s probably taken a year to do that.

What was your role on the team?

I picked the brains of some farmers which was very useful. They use a corn-soybean rotation and use either manure for their fertilizers or chemical fertilizers. So what these particular farmers do is they plant corn one year with manure, followed by soy beans with no fertilizer, followed by corn with chemical fertilizer and in the fourth year soy beans with no fertilizer.
So my function was to get all the information from the farmers such as spreading and injection of manure in the soils.

How did you find the mix of talents on the team?

We all brought something to the table. I’ve been in industry all my life, another guy was very fluent in using the modelling program, and another had a lot of experience in getting journal articles published. We all had different roles. Our facilitator was also pretty good and kept us on track if we started to go off on a tangent during our discussions.

And no doubt the prize money comes in handy.

Well, what do you do when you get money, you spend it right? I put it into my current cash flow in my consulting business and it just helps to pay my bills.

I have read that you are also an inventor and have come up with a dental rinse that is effective at breaking up plaque in the mouth. How is that doing?

It’s something from my ICI days that they never went ahead with. My son and I haven’t been very successful with it because it has a very expensive active ingredient and this is a case where we need thousands and thousands of dollars to do a clinical study to prove its effectiveness. Although, I know that ICI did do studies 25 or 30 years ago when I was with them. It works. I use it all the time myself and it does take care of plaque.

So you make up batches and use it all the time at home?

Yes. We were hoping to really commercialize it and unfortunately one of those things it hasn’t come together yet.

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