The Challenge of a Problem Keeps My Mind Busy

Interview with IdeaConnection Problem Solver John Newport
John Newport came to the US when he was 25 and fresh out of Manchester University with a PhD. He was recruited from his native England and his original intention was to stay for a couple of years – 45 years later and he’s still there today.

photo of John NewportBefore ‘retiring’ John worked in industrial R&D for 34 years for Hercules Incorporated in a number of different business units.

He’s the current chair of the Chemical Consultants Network and works on his own as a consultant as well as being part of a partnership carrying out contract research. In addition, he has 10 patents to his name.

The area I first worked in was in dyeing polypropylene fibers. My PhD was in the diffusion of dyestuffs into fibers, and over the years I’ve worked in different fields – fibers, films, reaction injection moldings and paper chemicals. I have developed a broad background in a number of sciences – surface science, the science of flow, the science of deformation, polymer synthesis and polymer properties and having the broad background has been useful in my consulting career and working with IdeaConnection. So I’m thankful of having the opportunity to have such a broad background.

What appeals to you about working on challenges with IdeaConnection?

One of the things I really like about IdeaConnection is that you can meet people that you would have never met otherwise. So I’ve been on teams with people from Sweden, Switzerland, Mexico, USA, Canada, South Africa, Egypt and the UK and have made some enduring friendships, and some of these have led to other potential projects.

I like the IdeaConnection way of doing things; it has benefits in more than one respect. There’s a benefit for the seeker if he gets a good solution, a benefit for the solvers as they can get paid for their work and you are also making new connections and networks.

I love the challenge of a problem as it keeps my mind busy. I think I’m as creative as I ever was, and probably even more creative than I ever was, and I’m now seventy years old. It’s the stimulus that folk like IdeaConnection provide for me to do that. If companies such as IdeaConnection weren’t around it might have been more difficult for people like me to find an outlet for our creative energies.

What have you learned by working on problem solving teams?
So there are things I have worked on with IdeaConnection that I could not have worked on by myself but I’ve been able to contribute to them nonetheless. In many cases there’s strength in numbers. In terms of learning it has a great value because even though you may have the highest opinion of yourself in the world you don’t know everything.

It’s often when there are different skills needed to solve problems that you pick up something. So on a previous challenge on the prediction of the fate of organic chemicals in soil, the seeker was looking for a model and we had a statistician on the scene and without a statistician we would’ve been dead in the water. But the statistician didn’t know any chemistry and didn’t know how these things degraded. So separately we would’ve been useless but together we were a good team.

Do you have an idea of what the solutions might be before getting in to solve the problems?

Usually I have a pretty good idea and for some of these ones we have put in multiple solutions. For one challenge we put in five, because we all came from different backgrounds all had different ideas and didn’t want to pick between them so we presented them all.

Are the discussions fun?

The discussions are fun, usually anyway. Of course, when you meet people online that you’ve never met before you will get along well with some, but others are going to annoy you a little if they hog the conversations. Some people don’t know when to be quiet and listen. So that’s when the skills of a facilitator really come to the fore.

Are you comfortable working on a contingency basis?

I do consulting and I put in proposals, and any small company is used to putting in a proposal to do work. That doesn’t mean to say that if they put in a proposal they’ll get awarded the contract. I don’t see that IdeaConnection is any different from that. So a team of you have sat down together and you’ve put in a proposal and you may get accepted or not. That’s the way the world works and I don’t have a problem with that.

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