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By Oscar Smulder Innovation Manager Knowledge & Innovation Centre at Maintenance Valuepark Terneuzen





In an era where open innovation is mainly thought of as a fully web-enabled approach where crowds and clouds are used to generate new ideas, it is refreshing to see that ‘physical meetings’ still have an important role to play. Bringing people physically together and invite them to participate in a structured process may even offer very good, creative outcomes. The recent edition of ‘Quebec Seeks Solutions’ clearly demonstrates this. Innovative solutions were found for 9 complex problems that companies in the region of Quebec are facing.

In the Netherlands we have had similar experiences, when we used a variant of the solution approach in the context of the Maintenance Valuepark, a cluster of companies offering maintenance solutions for process industries. The Quest for Solutions events we organized last year were successful in creating a very positive dynamic, generating new ideas for old problems, making new combinations and were key in setting the collaborative innovation process in motion.

Bringing together a group of people and let them free in a well prepared structured process is a powerful mean to generate new ideas and offer solutions that had not been imagined before. I’d like to share some important factors that contribute to the success of these events.

In both the Quebec Seeks Solutions as in the Quests for Solutions, the events have been set up around real life problems, often structural problems that companies have been struggling with for some time but prove to be hard to solve. The events create the opportunity to get fresh ideas, and invite different competencies and experts to have a look at the problem.

The role of the problem owner is a very important one. As he is hindered by the actual situation or has something to gain by finding a solution of the problem, the problem owner will provide the drive to get somewhere. The enthusiasm of the problem owner is one of the keys to bring the group dynamics into action, thus generating creative and innovative solutions.

Another important factor characterizing the events is the importance given to “Asking the right question”. Instead of directly narrowing down within the boundaries of the initial problem statement, the process leads participants first through a phase of divergence which is very important. In this open and creative phase, firstly a broader understanding of the problem is pursued. In a next step ideas for solutions are generated, where tellingly often the best ideas do not come from the expected direction… In a closing phase of convergence, the most promising ideas are selected and worked out further.

Success is clear by the dynamics during the session. The presentation of the results at the end of the Quebec Seeks Solutions spoke for itself. One of the participants acknowledged that the problem he had put on the table was a fundamental one; at the end of the QSS session, he was happy to report to have found a fundamental solution and a bonus idea to go with it. Another problem owner reflected on the QSS experience in a very affective way, saying to have felt ‘carried by the group’s knowledge’ towards solutions she had not been able to think of within her own company.