https://innovateuk.blog.gov.uk/2017/07/10/cross-sector-collaboration-is-essential-to-solving-innovation-problems/

Cross sector collaboration is essential to solving innovation problems

As members of my team will tell you if something gets me animated it must have been good.

I recently took part in a challenge translation workshop for the Offshore Wind Innovation Exchange (OWiX) programme, which is run through the Offshore Wind Innovation Hub. The aim of the workshop was to introduce new businesses to the offshore wind supply chain by linking innovative solution providers, from outside the sector, to solve offshore wind challenges.

Problems can often be solved when seen from a different angle

Imagine I put a glass of water in the middle of a table and asked you to achieve the simple task of emptying the glass without touching it.

Immediately the lateral thinking mind starts whirring and solutions such as boiling, evaporation, vibrations (acoustic or ultrasonic), osmosis, syphoning and perhaps the use of a Capillary effect start to emerge.

In fact, there are umpteen ways in which you could solve the puzzle. The key point that connects them all is that none of these solutions needs you to have knowledge of the glass and its properties, but in fact knowledge of how to move a liquid.

Solution providers outside of offshore wind sector may have the answer to your problem

Offshore wind turbine

So, what on earth has all of that got to do with offshore wind?

Well imagine that the glass was an offshore wind turbine and take, for example, a typical offshore wind problem: that of blade leading edge erosion.

Leading edge erosion leads to:

  • aerodynamic loss of performance
  • expensive repair procedures
  • loss of revenue due to downtime

If you are from outside of the sector, you may well have a solution but will ignore the challenge because you don’t know:

  • anything about blades (or even what one is)
  • what a leading edge is
  • a lot about aerodynamics

So you may decide this challenge is not for you.

However, you may well know a lot about damage prevention of composite materials operating in harsh environments. In other words, you know how to move the liquid in the glass.

How do you get people to solve problems out of their context?

Problem solving

The Offshore Wind Innovation Exchange (OWiX) programme operates on a simple process ideal:

  1. The problem owner chooses two real challenges that would benefit its business if solved
  2. The challenges are translated from an industry specific form to a general challenge
  3. The generic challenges are promoted to alternative sectors through a call for ideas
  4. The businesses with the best solutions are introduced to the problem owners and therefore given the opportunity to enter a new supply chain through direct access to the end customer.

So why did the workshop work so well? Because it was filled with people from a wide variety of backgrounds representing the different sectors through which solutions will be sought.

There are no ‘stupid’ questions in problem solving

As soon as our problem owner, in this case a wind farm owner/operator, presented its challenge the Knowledge Transfer Managers from the Knowledge Transfer Network started asking ignorant questions. I say ignorant quite deliberately because these were simply questions due to lack of knowledge of offshore wind and most certainly not stupid questions.

In fact, without these different perspectives and approaches in thinking the whole process could not have worked.

  • Is this a data issue?
  • a manufacturing issue?
  • a process problem?
  • how big?
  • why do you do it like that?
  • What about if you….?

Wait stop!

Thinking about solutions is not allowed, the purpose of the workshop is only to reframe the problem.

Someone, somewhere already has the answer

The clever part of the process is in the translation of the challenges.

This uses a process which is loosely based on the principles of TRIZ (the theory of inventive problem solving) developed by Genrich Altschuller. In his work, Altschuller undertook a patent study where he identified five levels of invention:

  1. 32% of inventions related to development of knowledge within an organisation
  2. 45% related to new knowledge to an industry
  3. 18% related to fundamental changes within industries
  4. 4% related to new technologies or development of technology
  5. Only 1% of invention was related to new science

Why does this matter?

Because it means that there is a 99% chance that someone, somewhere is likely to already have a solution to your problem.

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