Study Shows Women Without Experience Make Better Problem Solvers

A study published by Harvard University in conjunction with professionals from an open innovation platform, InnoCentive, has determined that the less a woman knows about a specific subject matter, the better she is at solving that problem.



Group launches a global search for female problem solvers with 'No Experience Necessary’  (Support the IndieGogo Campaign here: )

WomenFix, a group out of New York, is rallying to find more female problem solvers to come together to reach a common goal – to raise the quality of life for all. The team spent the last year collecting stories from women about how they solved a problem related to quality of life. However, the team quickly found that most women don’t identify themselves or other women as problem solvers.

The group will use the stories as examples in a book they are writing which will teach anyone how to take everyday problems and create profitable and sustainable solutions that will positively affect quality of life now or in the future.

They are on the hunt for any and all women because they know that it’s proven that females don’t have to have experience to be incredible problem solvers.


A study published by Harvard University in conjunction with professionals from an open innovation platform, InnoCentive, has determined that the less a woman knows about a specific subject matter, the better she is at solving that problem.

“Female solvers – known to be in the “outer circle” of the scientific establishment - performed significantly better than men in developing successful solutions.” _ Marginality and Problem Solving Effectiveness in Broadcast Search, Harvard University 2009.

Open innovation networks like InnoCentive and NineSigma are crowdsourcing contest platforms that give self-proclaimed solvers the opportunity to compete and create winning solutions for the most aching problems found in (usually) large R&D–intensive companies. Answers supplied by the contestants (the solvers) are then blindly reviewed and either a couple contestants or one contestant will earn a monetary reward for their solution.

Contests can be posted by companies anonymously or some companies like Unilever will create their own page to promote many of their STEM-based brain busters. Types of problems include formulas for adhesives, mechanisms for systems or products, or even solutions to reduce concussions which was a huge contest co-hosted on NineSigma’s NineSights platform by the NFL, Under Armour, GE, and NIST.


Winning solutions from women came from those who were the furthest distance between their technical expertise and the focal field of the problem. How many women are we talking about?

The study included 166 science problems, originating from the R&D labs of 26 firms in 10 countries and a broadcast to a network of up to 80,000 scientists. The team then analyzed data from over 12,000 scientists that expressed interest in solving the crowd-sourced problems (downloaded information about the contest) and conducted a survey with those who submitted solutions to the problems.

Out of this amount, women comprised only 15.6% of the downloader group, and only 11.4% of the group that submitted solutions for assessment. However, out of the 59 winning solvers, 9 (15.2%) were women.

There are a few interesting points that try to explain why women (compared to men) aren’t submitting solutions.

  • Women don’t like the competition setup. The study makes note that “We include Gender as a variable impacting submission probability since recent economic experiments have highlighted that controlling for ability and given a choice between a competitive, i.e. winner-take-all payment, and a non-competitive, i.e. piece-rate payment, environment, women are less likely to choose to compete (Croson and Gneezy 2009; Niederle and Vesterlund 2007). Thus the gender of the participant may impact the likelihood of creating a submission.”
  • Women are turned off by the prize size. The researchers say that “…increasing size of the award discourages entry…”
  • Women think they need experience in order to submit solutions. Even though the research shows that it’s better when a woman is outside of the problem discipline, they found it’s the women who are closer to the problem discipline as well as their own interests who are more likely to submit a solution. Likewise, experience in the submission process perpetuates more participation. “The more problems a solver has opened in the past, the more likely they are to submit a solution to the current problem.”
  • Women are more likely to solve theoretical challenges. Each problem contest could require a different level of completed development. For example, the contest could require a working prototype, or just a theoretical concept. At InnoCentive, they call the prototype contests ‘RTP solutions’.

"An RTP is a Reduction to Practice Challenge to find a prototype that shows an idea in actual practice (though on a non-commercial scale). In an RTP Challenge, in addition to a detailed description, Solvers are asked to present physical evidence that proves their solution will work within the Seeker’s specific needs, decision criteria, or manufacturing parameters. Solvers are given more time to generate data needed to support their proposals and prepare a response, and the financial awards are typically larger to reward the greater commitment required to work on these Challenges."

So, in an RTP challenge, the requirement for a prototype as well as the prize size (as stated in #2) “could be considered proxies for problem difficulty and thus the results appear to be intuitive.”


Share @WomenFix with your colleagues or sign up at if you are (or know) someone who is passionate about an issue, or who has solved a problem related to quality of life. Quality of life includes clean and plentiful air, water, food, and includes any issue related to the 17 Goals of Sustainability set by the United Nations.


WomenFix's first vetted solution will debut in late March, 2016. The fix is related to how the world purchases products, apparel, and entertainment and will affect all 17 of the UN's Sustainability Goals. If you'd like more information about the release date of this solution, contact

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