When You Work in a Team You Truly Think Out of the Box

Interview with IdeaConnection solver and facilitator Philippe Herve
By Paul Arnold
IdeaConnection problem solver and facilitator Philippe HERVE first came across open innovation while managing innovation for a former employer. He was considering broadening the company’s knowledgebase and looking at how to bring in new ideas.

Since that time, he has been engaged in numerous open innovation activities in his professional life and in his spare time.

Today, he is the co-founder and managing partner of Nektarus Venture Lab, a company that conceives, incubates and launches innovative companies that link sustainable food systems and human health. And when he has the time, he likes to get into IdeaConnection problem solving challenges.

In this interview, Philippe talks a little about his involvement with open innovation and his experiences as a successful solver.

Philippe HerveThe sort of challenges I have been involved with have mainly been around life sciences because that is my field. I am a biologist and chemist by training, so I feel more comfortable when challenges are related to life sciences or if they are food related. I also offer my services as a facilitator, in which case the challenges can be broader.

Do you consider going into fields other than your areas of expertise?

If I venture outside of my field of expertise it’s because the topic is of interest and I think I can bring a new view. If I don't feel I can bring anything because I am too far out of the field or I have no personal interest, then I prefer to stay away. I always benchmark how I will contribute to a team.

How do you find working with multidisciplinary teams in a virtual environment?

First, working in a virtual environment. It can be a bit challenging, although it was a lot more challenging several years ago. The setup with IdeaConnection is very good and it’s not even difficult to manage the different time zones that people are in. I also found people to be very, very open, and very accommodating. I think people who do open innovation by default are quite open minded.

Now to talk about working as a team. What I like to see upfront is what are the possible contributions of the different solvers. They come from different disciplines, but I don’t think that is the most important factor. It's more about how much they are interested in the challenge, and it is good to understand that quickly. It is also good to understand where they want to contribute.

Some people get into a team because they have a technical background and want to bring a lot of ideas or do experiments. Then there are people who feel more like they want to contribute in shaping the writing of the challenge. So, it’s good to understand what people want to achieve because it’s very different from one challenge to the next. If you don’t understand this the teamwork can be very challenging, but so far, I haven't experienced any major problems.

You have worked on IdeaConnection team challenges and as an individual solver with other platforms. Does one approach have advantages over the other?

Yes, I do both. Very often what I see is that as a standalone solver you basically come up with one or two ideas and go deep as quickly as you can, because you are alone. With a team, you can do a longer ideation process and I like it when people in a team very quickly list several ideas, even the craziest ideas. When you work in a team you truly think out of the box much more than when you are standalone.

Secondly, when you work in a team you can go beyond just an idea because you have multiple expertise. You can really articulate much more because you are bringing multiple expertise and multiple thinking. You can really shape a solution which I think is much more attractive for a seeker.

Also, there is an element that IdeaConnection does well, and that is they allow us to have communication with the seeker and that can really motivate a team. I am always talking about what the seeker should do, because I think it is so critical. If seekers want great stuff they must motivate people beyond the financial reward.

This includes how they engage with solvers. So, if you ask a question through a platform, it’s how quickly they answer and how open they are themselves to help.

Do you prefer innovating as part of a team or as an individual solver?

I have started enjoying teamwork more because of what I’ve just said. And for myself, there are two parts when you do open innovation. Of course, you want to solve the problem for the seeker, so you have a client-minded approach, but the fun part is learning for yourself. I am learning a lot when I do IdeaConnection challenges and I like these great learning experiences. Also, it’s about making connections. I've been solving challenges with the same people from time to time and that's a good thing. The importance of networking between solvers is not to be ignored at all.

How much success have you enjoyed with IdeaConnection?

It hasn’t been too bad. I think I have won four challenges and so it's probably about a 60% success rate.

And are you happy with that?

Yes. When I really believed that we should’ve won we won.

And finally, what is it about innovation that appeals to you?

Solving problems. That's what really attracts me. I like the idea of working on a challenge and finding solutions for a specific challenge. It’s interesting to see other solvers, who are very often from academia doing research. They engage in open innovation challenges maybe because they want to see how they can really apply what they do in research in real life. Open innovation does offer that, so it’s a very nice link between companies and research organizations.

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