Creativity & Problem-Solving

The Laboratory for Innovation Science at Harvard (LISH) is conducting research and creating evidence-based approaches to problem-solving. Researchers at LISH are identifying the best way to approach a problem, starting with problem formulation, and experimenting with solvers on the best way to find solutions.

Key Questions

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How does the nature of the problem to be solved impact the most optimal problem-solving approaches to be used?

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How can problems be best formulated so that outsiders can help solve them?

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How does diversity in knowledge and skills impact problem-solving?

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Can creativity be enhanced through teams and/or exposure to peers?

 

These four research questions frame projects in this track, pushing the boundaries of medical imaging and computational biology through artificial intelligence and algorithm development, extensive crowdsourcing work with NASA and other federal agencies, and using data science to help create a history of the partition of British India. See below for more information on each of the individual projects in this research track.

Related Publications

Frank Nagle, James Dana, Jennifer Hoffman, Steven Randazzo, and Yanuo Zhou. 3/2/2022. Census II of Free and Open Source Software — Application Libraries. The Linux Foundation. Harvard Laboratory for Innovation Science (LISH) and Open Source Security Foundation (OpenSSF). Publisher's VersionAbstract

Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) has become a critical part of the modern economy. There are tens of millions of FOSS projects, many of which are built into software and products we use every day. However, it is difficult to fully understand the health, economic value, and security of FOSS because it is produced in a decentralized and distributed manner. This distributed development approach makes it unclear how much FOSS, and precisely what FOSS projects, are most widely used. This lack of understanding is a critical problem faced by those who want to help enhance the security of FOSS (e.g., companies, governments, individuals), yet do not know what projects to start with. This problem has garnered widespread attention with the Heartbleed and log4shell vulnerabilities that resulted in the susceptibility of hundreds of millions of devices to exploitation.

This report, Census II, is the second investigation into the widespread use of FOSS and aggregates data from over half a million observations of FOSS libraries used in production applications at thousands of companies, which aims to shed light on the most commonly used FOSS packages at the application library level. This effort builds on the Census I report that focused on the lower level critical operating system libraries and utilities, improving our understanding of the FOSS packages that software applications rely on. Such insights will help to identify critical FOSS packages to allow for resource prioritization to address security issues in this widely used software.

The Census II effort utilizes data from partner Software Composition Analysis (SCA) companies including Snyk, the Synopsys Cybersecurity Research Center (CyRC), and FOSSA, which partnered with Harvard to advance the state of open source research. Our goal is to not only identify the most widely used FOSS, but to also provide an example of how the distributed nature of FOSS requires a multi-party effort to fully understand the value and security of the FOSS ecosystem. Only through data-sharing, coordination, and investment will the value of this critical component of the digital economy be preserved for generations to come.

In addition to the detailed results on FOSS usage provided in the report, we identified five high-level findings: 1) the need for a standardized naming schema for software components, 2) the complexities associated with package versions, 3) much of the most widely used FOSS is developed by only a handful of contributors, 4) the increasing importance of individual developer account security, and 5) the persistence of legacy software in the open source space.

Karim R. Lakhani, Anne-Laure Fayard, Manos Gkeredakis, and Jin Hyun Paik. 10/5/2020. “OpenIDEO (B)”. Publisher's VersionAbstract
In the midst of 2020, as the coronavirus pandemic was unfolding, OpenIDEO - an online open innovation platform focused on design-driven solutions to social issues - rapidly launched a new challenge to improve access to health information, empower communities to stay safe during the COVID-19 crisis, and inspire global leaders to communicate effectively. OpenIDEO was particularly suited to challenges which required cross-system or sector-wide collaboration due to its focus on social impact and ecosystem design, but its leadership pondered how they could continue to improve virtual collaboration and to share their insights from nearly a decade of running online challenges. Conceived as an exercise of disruptive digital innovation, OpenIDEO successfully created a strong open innovation community, but how could they sustain - or even improve - their support to community members and increase the social impact of their online challenges in the coming years?
Elizabeth E. Richard, Jeffrey R. Davis, Jin H. Paik, and Karim R. Lakhani. 4/25/2019. “Sustaining open innovation through a “Center of Excellence”.” Strategy & Leadership. Publisher's VersionAbstract

This paper presents NASA’s experience using a Center of Excellence (CoE) to scale and sustain an open innovation program as an effective problem-solving tool and includes strategic management recommendations for other organizations based on lessons learned.

This paper defines four phases of implementing an open innovation program: Learn, Pilot, Scale and Sustain. It provides guidance on the time required for each phase and recommendations for how to utilize a CoE to succeed. Recommendations are based upon the experience of NASA’s Human Health and Performance Directorate, and experience at the Laboratory for Innovation Science at Harvard running hundreds of challenges with research and development organizations.

Lessons learned include the importance of grounding innovation initiatives in the business strategy, assessing the portfolio of work to select problems most amenable to solving via crowdsourcing methodology, framing problems that external parties can solve, thinking strategically about early wins, selecting the right platforms, developing criteria for evaluation, and advancing a culture of innovation. Establishing a CoE provides an effective infrastructure to address both technical and cultural issues.

The NASA experience spanned more than seven years from initial learnings about open innovation concepts to the successful scaling and sustaining of an open innovation program; this paper provides recommendations on how to decrease this timeline to three years.

Karim R. Lakhani and Akiko Kanno. 2017. Weathernews. Harvard Business School Case. Harvard Business School. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Tomohiro Ishibashi (Bashi), chief executive officer for B to S, and Julia Foote LeStage, chief innovation officer of Weathernews Inc., were addressing a panel at the HBS Digital Summit on creative uses of big data. They told the summit attendees about how the Sakura (cherry blossoms) Project, where the company asked users in Japan to report about how cherry blossoms were blooming near them day by day, had opened up opportunities for the company's consumer business in Japan. The project ultimately garnered positive publicity and became a foothold to building the company's crowdsourcing weather-forecasting service in Japan. It changed the face of weather forecasting in Japan. Bashi and LeStage wondered whether the experience could be applied to the U.S. market.

Karim R. Lakhani, Andrew Hill, Po-Ru Loh, Ragu B. Bharadwaj, Pascal Pons, Jingbo Shang, Eva C. Guinan, Iain Kilty, and Scott Jelinsky. 2017. “Stepwise Distributed Open Innovation Contests for Software Development: Acceleration of Genome-Wide Association Analysis.” GigaScience, 6, 5, Pp. 1-10. Publisher's VersionAbstract

BACKGROUND: The association of differing genotypes with disease-related phenotypic traits offers great potential to both help identify new therapeutic targets and support stratification of patients who would gain the greatest benefit from specific drug classes. Development of low-cost genotyping and sequencing has made collecting large-scale genotyping data routine in population and therapeutic intervention studies. In addition, a range of new technologies is being used to capture numerous new and complex phenotypic descriptors. As a result, genotype and phenotype datasets have grown exponentially. Genome-wide association studies associate genotypes and phenotypes using methods such as logistic regression. As existing tools for association analysis limit the efficiency by which value can be extracted from increasing volumes of data, there is a pressing need for new software tools that can accelerate association analyses on large genotype-phenotype datasets.

RESULTS: Using open innovation (OI) and contest-based crowdsourcing, the logistic regression analysis in a leading, community-standard genetics software package (PLINK 1.07) was substantially accelerated. OI allowed us to do this in <6 months by providing rapid access to highly skilled programmers with specialized, difficult-to-find skill sets. Through a crowd-based contest a combination of computational, numeric, and algorithmic approaches was identified that accelerated the logistic regression in PLINK 1.07 by 18- to 45-fold. Combining contest-derived logistic regression code with coarse-grained parallelization, multithreading, and associated changes to data initialization code further developed through distributed innovation, we achieved an end-to-end speedup of 591-fold for a data set size of 6678 subjects by 645 863 variants, compared to PLINK 1.07's logistic regression. This represents a reduction in run time from 4.8 hours to 29 seconds. Accelerated logistic regression code developed in this project has been incorporated into the PLINK2 project.

CONCLUSIONS: Using iterative competition-based OI, we have developed a new, faster implementation of logistic regression for genome-wide association studies analysis. We present lessons learned and recommendations on running a successful OI process for bioinformatics.

Dietmar Harhoff and Karim R. Lakhani. 2016. Revolutionizing Innovation: Users, Communities, and Open Innovation. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Publisher's VersionAbstract

The last two decades have witnessed an extraordinary growth of new models of managing and organizing the innovation process, which emphasize users over producers. Large parts of the knowledge economy now routinely rely on users, communities, and open innovation approaches to solve important technological and organizational problems. This view of innovation, pioneered by the economist Eric von Hippel, counters the dominant paradigm, which casts the profit-seeking incentives of firms as the main driver of technical change. In a series of influential writings, von Hippel and colleagues found empirical evidence that flatly contradicted the producer-centered model of innovation. Since then, the study of user-driven innovation has continued and expanded, with further empirical exploration of a distributed model of innovation that includes communities and platforms in a variety of contexts and with the development of theory to explain the economic underpinnings of this still emerging paradigm. This volume provides a comprehensive and multidisciplinary view of the field of user and open innovation, reflecting advances in the field over the last several decades.

The contributors—including many colleagues of Eric von Hippel—offer both theoretical and empirical perspectives from such diverse fields as economics, the history of science and technology, law, management, and policy. The empirical contexts for their studies range from household goods to financial services. After discussing the fundamentals of user innovation, the contributors cover communities and innovation; legal aspects of user and community innovation; new roles for user innovators; user interactions with firms; and user innovation in practice, describing experiments, toolkits, and crowdsourcing and crowdfunding.

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