Conference Recap: World’s Greatest Problem Solvers

Laura Sweltz, Director of UX Research and Strategic Initiatives

Article Category: #Strategy

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I recently attended the World's Greatest Problem Solvers conference. The conference spanned three days, had a single track, and was held right here in Boulder, CO. The premise? Bring together individuals from a wide variety of fields to discuss some of the greatest challenges facing the world, with a focus on how the internet of things can help us tackle these problems.

Distinguished speakers covered a range of thought-provoking and pertinent topics. Everything from containing infectious disease and combating violence to ensuring food security and maintaining energy sources was discussed. The conference included a mix of panels, interviews, and presentations. It was light on PowerPoint slides and heavy on engaging discussion. Speakers covered real work from their fields of expertise and passionately shared their views on the topic at hand.

Since the conference was small, it provided an intimate setting to get to know speakers and other attendees. Everyone was encouraged to mingle and discuss the topics during breaks and meals. This aspect enhanced the overall event by allowing attendees to review issues in more depth and make connections to address specific problems together.  

The event kicked off with BBC anchor Katty Kay speaking about the challenges facing the world today (spoiler alert: there are more than you can count) before moving on to the panels, interviews, and discussions.

Here are a few of the interesting discussions from the event:


When it comes to energy, the internet of things can provide a vast number of advancements in the areas of exploration, production, and supply and demand. Using internet capable devices can help increase profits and preserve resources.  In the propane industry, companies used to have to guess when a home needed a refill. In order to ensure that a customer never ran out of fuel, they would visit homes prematurely. When they went to refill, the tanks were typically still 60% full. This process led to unnecessary in-person visits and unnecessary costs. With the addition of sensors and monitoring, they have reduced deliveries and overall costs by 40%. 

Disruptive Technologies

Michael Cappellas, Founder of Capellas Strategic Partners, discussed the ability of technology to serve as a great equalizer because it allows ordinary people to disrupt entire industries. On the flip side, however, it can be an in-equalizer by negatively impacting those working in existing industries. A company like Uber, for example, addressed many of the issues with traditional taxi services and solved a real need for many people by leveraging technology. At the same time, they disrupted the space and put the livelihood of those in the traditional taxi industry at risk. These disruptions are inevitable and occur when new technical capabilities are brought together to solve a need.  


Edit Schlaffer from Women Without Borders spoke about her work with the mothers of jihadists. Women Without Borders is an organization that encourages women to become active participants in their communities and to help shape their present and their future. They have developed a program called Mothers School that empowers women to take an active role in safeguarding their families against the threat of violent extremism. The program consists of a series of workshops and meetings that occur in a non-judgmental space and offer concerned mothers training so they can recognize and react to early warning signs of radicalization in their children. This approach to security provides mothers with the skills and the tools for prevention and intervention right where they have the best access for action — in their own homes and communities. Participants in the program can then take the skills that they have learned and teach them to others in their community. Some of the past participants have even started a radio program that shares information from the program and currently reaches more than 500,000 people.  


The internet of things can bring much needed clarity into the agriculture business, where data is crucial throughout the value chain. Data gained through the addition of sensors and greater connectivity will increase the ability to utilize resources in a more meaningful way and to reduce waste. Jason Tatge is the founder of Farmobile, a company that focuses on putting important data into the hands of farmers so they can make better business decisions. It centralizes data from multiple systems in one place (traditionally a difficult/impossible task). He also gives farmers the opportunity to sell their data to certain distributors as they see fit — and to take a cut of the profits. 

Consumer Sentiment

Chris Hansen, the Senior Director of Energy Insight at IHS, presented The IHS US Sentiment Index, which provides a high-frequency measure of the average sentiment of US social media users. IHS uses social media data to determine the pulse of the nation and its confidence in purchasing consumer goods. Mood decreases are correlated with an increase in hedonistic purchases (such as alcohol and, surprisingly, nail polish). Mood increases are correlated with an increase in durable goods purchases (such as cars, dryers, and refrigerators). Since 5-7% of tweets contain an emoticon, they have started to map the words that are most frequently used with emoticons to the enhance their understanding of the meaning of different words. This helps increase the accuracy of the analysis.


On the water panel, the founder of Well Intel spoke about using the internet of things to impact the well industry. 50% of Americans use groundwater. 1 million out of the existing 12 million wells in American fail each year. The Well Intel product puts a sensor in the well and helps consumers understand what's happening.

The World's Greatest Problem Solvers conference was a unique and engaging event that provided the opportunity to take a break from my typical work routine and peek into many different industries and issues. There is no shortage of problems in the world and the internet of things presents an amazing opportunity to disrupt industries and solve challenges in entirely new ways. Let's take it.  

Laura Sweltz

Laura is Viget's Director of UX Research and Strategic Initiatives. She works from our Durham, NC office, where she helps clients like Rotary International, AARP, and Time Life understand the needs and behaviors of their users.

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