Enjoying the Thrill of the Innovation Process

Interview with IdeaConnection problem solver Charles John Bhaskar
Charles John Bhaskar is one of IdeaConnection's most successful solvers with a string of awards under his belt for delivering solutions to seekers in numerous fields. One of his latest successes was with the Matrix Release Idea Rally.

He was one of a handful of solvers to receive an award for coming up with novel ideas to improve the release of a low molecular weight, hydrophobic volatile compound embedded in a matrix composed of multiple materials.

In this interview, Charles talks about his winning approach to innovating, how you can win even if a seeker doesn’t select your idea and what he enjoyed about his participation in this Idea Rally.

Charles John BhaskarI participated almost every day, right up until the last moment when I was occupied with my niece’s wedding. Up until then, I was working almost around the clock, not sleeping much and waking up with ideas. It was enjoyable and tiring sometimes but you know when something is really enjoyable you just forget about all your tiredness.

Did you come up with new ideas or build on those of others?

I would say it was a mixture. Initially, I had a lot of my own ideas. But there were many other people posting all sorts of things and some were very intelligent ideas. And so I was building on others’ also. You know I wasn’t competing with other participants. I didn’t see it as a competition. In fact, there were many collaborations and I made good friends during this particular rally.

So you put in a lot of hours but there was no guarantee of success or of receiving a financial award. How did you stay motivated?

There are many types of motivations for people. For some it's money for others it's power and position and for others it's achievement. Always there's a balance of all these things. If I was to say I don’t expect any money that wouldn’t be correct. I do require money and I do make money from challenges. But the major motivation for me is the thrill of the process. During a two-week period on this rally, I read about 60 different scientific papers. Normally, I wouldn’t have read so many papers in such a short period of time.

I take it from your tone of voice that was something you enjoyed doing.

It was a wonderful learning experience. And once I learn something it is there within me and I can always use the knowledge somewhere. It may not be in this particular rally or another challenge but I will be able to use it somewhere along the way. I mean nothing is a waste. Knowledge is knowledge.

The way I look at things is that if people lose a particular challenge instead of saying ‘I lost’ they should focus on what they have learned. For example, they may have learned what not to do or how to do something better the next time.

There’s always a learning curve and we keep on learning. I used to tell my students that every scientist and every researcher should think of themselves as a student. If I don’t think of myself as a student then I can never be a scientist. You’re always learning. There is no end to that.

So even when you don’t win a challenge you’re winning?

Exactly. I used to tell some of my colleagues and fellow participants in IdeaConnection that many times the winners lose. I used to talk about this winners-lose concept. They wondered what I was really talking about. How can you lose when you win?

Well, it’s this. I said the seeker is looking for something specific or they want a particular answer. Probably you have an answer but this particular seeker may not need it but it’s still useful. Perhaps you can develop a new product out of it or a new process. Nothing is a waste. Every idea is very important and we need to nurture them. No idea is useless is what I would say.

And what do you mean about a winner losing?

The first part is that the losers win. The second part is that the winners also can lose because once they reach a certain level or have submitted a solution they might be thinking that’s the end of it. They can’t go anywhere else with their idea.

What are your thoughts on Idea Rallies as a way of innovating?

When a single person works on something you may only get one idea. But this rally which was about chemistry also attracted biochemists and biologists and people from a biotechnology background and so on. Each one viewed the challenge from their own perspective and that’s the whole fun and interesting thing because your angle is going to be different from another person’s angle. When you start getting different angles you receive a fuller picture. Add lateral thinking to this and you have a better chance of innovating.

You’re a very successful solver with IdeaConnection so what do you put your success down to?

A number of things. Innovation methodologies are always there, but I read and update my knowledge all the time. The greater the number of fields the better. For example, I am a medical doctor but if I think only of medicine or biochemistry or physiology that’s not necessarily going to serve me well. Sometimes I might get an idea from engineering about how I can engineer the human body or make some prosthetic. Always you can incorporate different technologies from different fields. A wide knowledge is always better for these types of Idea Rallies and innovative approaches.

So the keys are reading and applying your knowledge?

Yes, and keeping track with a lot of different people from different disciplines, and teaching. I continue to teach and as I do I brush up on my knowledge. Many times you read something you forget it but not if you practice it and test it.

I have my own laboratory and I use it sometimes when I take part in IdeaConnection challenges. Even though the seeker doesn’t require an experiment to be done I do an experiment or a demonstration. I take pictures and videos and I present them. So when you make experiments in the laboratory it’s very different from just learning something or getting information through googling. Many people think that just by googling or seeing a video on YouTube you can learn everything but it’s not the case.

I would also attribute my success in this Idea Rally with being given the liberty to ask the seeker a few questions. Nobody asked any questions initially. So I asked about half a dozen such as: what are the characteristics of this molecule and that molecule? If you assume the information you receive at the beginning is enough and you don’t ask specific questions you probably won’t get many ideas.

You need to zero in on what the seeker really wants.

That is right. Otherwise, it will not be useful for them also. Asking questions is very important.

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