Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Exercise your brain by solving problems for Innocentive

Over the past few years, I've entered a few Innocentive challenges. What's Innocentive, you say? I'm glad you asked. It's an intriguing concept, a company that wouldn't have existed 10 years ago. Basically it's a clearinghouse for "challenges", where companies post problems that they're facing, and ask for "solutions".  A reward is offered for the best solution, usually between 5 and 10 thousand dollars, although sometimes much more, depending on the complexity of the challenge.

To best illustrate the kind of problems that are posed, let's take a look at some of the current challenges:

– Technology to Enable Packaging Flexibility
The proliferation of various consumer beverages plus increasing retail customer demands for unique pack and pallet configurations requires flexibility in the beverage bottling plant.  The goal is to find a partner with equipment solutions that enable secondary and tertiary package configuration flexibility with minimum manual processes and setup time.

– NASA’s Balance Mass Challenge: Using “Dead Weight” on Mars Spacecraft to Advance Science and Technology
NASA is looking for creative yet practical ideas to find a dual purpose for Balance mass (“dead weight”) that is jettisoned from Mars landers like the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) to balance the spacecraft during entry and landing.

– Capturing Institutional Memory and Knowledge 
The Seeker desires suggestions and best practices for knowledge management in a corporate setting. As employees age and retire, valuable knowledge is often lost.  In addition, with the realities of today’s workplace, employee turnover needs to be expected.  How can a company proactively capture institutional memory and knowledge, and make sure that it is not lost?

– Detection of Buried Explosive Hazards From a Distance
The Seeker desires novel approaches to detect buried explosive devices from a moving vehicle.  Finding and neutralizing hazards from previous wars is one of the hardest, long standing challenges facing Humanitarian Demining (HD) organizations.

I'm currently working on the challenge "Capturing Institutional Memory and Knowledge". It's actually been a long-standing interest of mine, and the lack of good processes for knowledge sharing has been a continual frustration at the places that I've worked. So I feel I'm pretty positioned to propose some reasonable solutions to this challenge.

One of the frustrations I've had with challenges is that the details are so skimpy. The basic problem in the challenge I'm working on (knowledge sharing and management in corporations) is huge, there are multiple books written on the topic and consulting companies that specialize in this area. So it seems that potential solvers would be more successful if there were more details about specifics that need to be addressed. This has been the case for previous challenges as well.

I've written up two potential solutions so far, and am working on my third. I haven't actually won anything yet, but the potential is tantalizing! And making money by winning something like this would be so much more satisfying than getting a regular paycheck.

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