[Interview] Don’t Tell Stories, Seek Solutions: The Story of the Problem Solution Conferences

En-mode-solutionsWe have been reporting on the format of teh "Seeks Solution" conferences before. The idea is both simple and surprisingly effective: turn a scientific conference upside down: Skip the presentation of successful research and undertakings and focus, together, on what is really interesting for everybody: challenges yet unsolved.

The event in question is, of course, the by now fairly popular series of "Seek Solutions" conferences.

Deutsch-cSince the first conference in Quebec, things have evolved and been refined. Christophe Deutsch of En Mode Solutions, the organization now planning and executing solution-seeking conferences in innovative hubs around the world, has kindly agreed to answer some of our questions on the concept, its evolution and the future – and how you can be part of it.


FTP: Christophe, your
"seek solutions" program takes a slightly different approach to
problem solving than usual. Can you explain in some brief words how it works
and what makes it special?

CD: We have developed a 4-Step Process that has given,
over the years, great results!

1 -Call for Problems: The promoter of the event asks his community to
submit complex problems that defy the standard analyses of his experts in the

2 – Formulate Selected Problems: We help the promoter to select the problems most
likely to garner interest at the event and to formulate them so that they can
be more easily shared. An expert of the problem’s domain, called an ambassador
in our case, is put in contact with the solution seeker. Just by asking some
basic questions, the ambassador is able to help the solution seeker further
define the problem and ensure that the description that will ultimately be
posted on a web-based platform is sufficiently clear and broad.

3 – Disseminate to a wider community – Problem broadcast: We disseminate the problems to be addressed to a
vast range of specialists in a variety of fields. They can provide a different
outlook on the problems raised, ask preparatory questions and participate in
the event. Broadcast is done through a web-based platform including as much
information as possible, such as figures, references, or details of failed

Two strategies are employed during the
problem-broadcast step. A general broadcasting approach ensures that everyone
who thinks they could help has the opportunity to participate. A targeted
broadcast to specialists based on expectations about what type of expertise
might be relevant to a particular problem is also used in parallel.

4 – Seeking Solutions Events: The last step is what differentiates the Seeking
Solutions approach from other open innovation techniques, because it involves a
real event where non-virtual collaboration arises. Solution seekers and problem
solvers come together during a full-day session to focus on the selected
problems. Careful preparation is required to ensure maximum output from the
event. The collaboration process is divided into three phases: i) divergence,
ii) exploration, and iii) convergence. Our facilitation methods allow for
significant and creative interaction with experts who are normally not part of
the same networks, and take full advantage of the “cross-pollination” of
brainpower effect.

You’ll be surprised to see that creative solutions
have been found to your complex problems in environments completely different
from your own.

FTP: From your website
one can tell that you have been organizing a number of solution seeking
conferences in the past. What did you learn from these? (How) did the concept
evolve over time?

CD: The call for problems for the
first event – Quebec Seeks Solutions (QSS) – was launched in June 2010. Ten
problems were submitted by nine industrial companies from the Quebec City area.
The problems were broadcasted online in early November 2010. On December 14,
2010, 175 people gathered at the Convention Centre in Quebec City to attend the
first problem-solving conference (Quebec Seeks Solutions).

For this first event, the largest
perceived gain was:

  • Networking outside the
    "normal" network,
  • The generation of new ideas for
  • A better understanding of the
  • Initiation of research contracts
    with real benefits and return on investment for the companies

A second edition of Quebec Seeks
Solutions took place in May 2012. Nine solution-seeking companies and 162
problem solvers participated in the two-day event. The outcomes were as good as
the first edition with some very nice success stories as a bonus.

In June 2012, we conducted a
workshop on the same basis at the ISPIM Conference in Barcelona, Spain. The
process was slightly adapted to the duration of the event and the context of
the conference. The workshop lasted less than two hours and the call for
problems was for innovation management issues only. Thirteen problems were
submitted and 5 were selected for the workshop. The solution seekers
appreciated the experience even though it only gave them a preview of what
could be achieved in a full-day event.

What we first learned so far is
that the intellectual-property issues that our detractors raise are not a
, mainly because the event in itself is an exploration where everybody
feels free to contribute. Intellectual-property challenges typically arise
"downstream" from this initial exploration.

Secondly, there is a real value
in local open innovation. Some
people say “Why connect locally when you can connect easily to the world
nowadays?” The answer is simple. Because a combination of open innovation and
collaboration on a local scale brings most of the benefits… without the
potential inconvenience of cultural differences!
Often the seeker and the
solver need to engage in collaborative research activities to achieve the
solution. Here, a regional conference offers much better opportunities than a
worldwide web platform.

Finally, it’s the importance of
the collaboration process in itself. The animation of such a conference cannot
be done in a conventional manner. The animators have to be experimented with
large groups and able to adapt depending on what happens.

Our approach is in constant
evolution and we still experiment during each event. For example at some point
in 2012
, we tried a two days event in order to see if the evening could bring
some special collaborations or new ideas. And in November this year, we will
introduce a technology push through a technology platform that local R&D
centers possess in our Quebec Seeks Solutions event. This may give ideas for
new problems or technology transfer and generate even more results!

FTP: You have three new
conferences planned for 2013, in June, September and November. Can you tell us
a bit about these? What to expect? Any big

CD: Yes, indeed, the Seeks Solutions approach is spreading around!

  • 2nd
    ISPIM Seeks Solutions, June 18, 2013 – Helsinki, Finland.
    A large conference is a great place to explore problems
    because you have experts from all around the world that can participate. I
    predict that you should see a lot more of these workshops in the future in
    numerous conferences because they offer a great way to collaborate and network!
  • Polymères en mode
    , September 26, 2013 – St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Canada.
     Sponsored by the
    Quebec Plastic Industry Consortium tihis one day event will focus on this
    industrial sector only. Plastic companies will submit problems they experiment
    but we may also have other industrial companies that submit problems which
    could be solved by the plastic industry.
  • 3rd
    Quebec Seeks Solutions, November 5-6, 2013

    This is where it all started! And in addition this year is the Seeking Solutions Summit – Methods and
    Policies Creating a Local Ecosystem for Technology Transfer, Collaboration, and
    Local Innovation
    . This is where we hope the open innovation world community
    will meet this fall!

Several other events are in the
midst for Canadian cities, industries and conferences! Stay tuned!

FTP: Pretending I was a
company with a problem I would like to have solved. What do I do to profit from
"seek solutions"?

CD: It’s very easy. You submit your
problem to any upcoming event we have on our calendar at www.enmodesolutions.com/en or contact Yahya Baby (yb@enmodesolutions.com) to
discuss about holding your own event in your area.

FTP: In my understanding
you are offering to organize problem solving conferences internationally, not
only in Canada. How can communities or administrations contact you for talks
about hosting a conference? How does the organizational process work?

CD: Yes
our team is ready and eager to work a lot more overseas even though we are very
busy as it is. The best way to engage into this process is to contact Yahya
Baby via email yb@enmodesolutions.com or by phone at 581-996-6778. Once we become
involved, we help the promoters organizing a successful event every step of the

FPT: From your
experiences so far, do you think that this and other forms of open problem
solution concepts are already well-accepted? Do they work? Or: what needs still
to be done to unleash their full potential?

CD: Open innovation and open problem solving approaches
require a change of mindset to reach full potential. A change of mindset most
often requires a pain or an enormous challenge to work it’s way. The current
economical context in Europe and North America is a good enabler I would think!
Because status quo is not an answer for anyone, in any type of industry and in
any country right now!

Many problems that the companies are facing today are
complex because they mix technical, environmental, social, and political
issues. To face this growing complexity, classical problem-solving
methodologies are no longer appropriate. The Seeking Solutions approach has the
potential to address the complex challenges of the next decade and we believe
that it can help us to migrate from a collection of intelligences to a real
collective intelligence. The next step is to encourage more and more companies
to try local open innovation and to convince local governments to support this

FTP: Christophe, many thanks for these extensive insights into your visions. It will certainly be a plasure to be part of a future solution seeking event again and I wish you all the best for this venture!

If you are interested in more information about En Mode Solutions and the conference format – or want to get in touch about hosting a conference yourself – please see the official website.

By | 2018-06-14T06:47:43+00:00 April 23rd, 2013|Co-creation, Crowdsourcing, Events, Interview, Open/User Innovation|

About the Author:

Frank T. Piller is a Co-Director of the MIT Smart Customization Group at the MIT Media Lab, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA, and a chair professor of management at the Technology & Innovation Management Group of RWTH Aachen University, Germany, one of Europe’s leading institutes of technology. Before entering his recent position in Aachen, he worked at the MIT Sloan School of Management (2004-2007) and has been an associate professor of management at TUM Business School, Technische Universitaet Muenchen. Frequently quoted in The New York Times, The Economist, and Business Week, amongst others, Frank is regarded as one of the leading experts on strategies for customer-centric value creation, like mass customization, personalization, and innovation co-creation. His recent analysis of the crowdsourcing business model “Threadless” (co-authored with Susumu Ogawa), an innovative crowdsourcing business model in the fashion industry, has been elected as one of the Top-20 articles in MIT Sloan Management Review.