Creativity Just Gets Better with Age

Interview with IdeaConnection problem solver Diana Matonis
By Paul Arnold
Diana Matonis is a chemist, mathematician, chemical engineer and software programmer with vast experience of the energy sector. Through her consulting practice she has worked with such industry leaders as ExxonMobil, Shell and Chevron Texaco.

As an IdeaConnection problem solver she brings her creativity and ingenuity to a number of challenges, and received an award for the self-forming and self-healing rubber like membrane challenge.

In this interview she talks about how creativity gets better as we get older, how concepts go from ideas to solutions, and the experience of working on IdeaConnection challenge teams.

Diana MatonisWell the people on the teams are phenomenal. They’re inquisitive, very good at data mining, professionals and fun to talk to. And they’re from all round the world.

How have you found the dynamic of remote working in a group?

The facilitators are extraordinary and when we get on Skype it’s like we’re sitting at a table in a room and we’re just coming out with ideas.

Does ego ever get in the way with people fighting for their ideas?

There is ego, but it doesn’t feel like you are in a workplace because we’re not climbing a ladder. We all receive the same reward for a successful solution, the recognition is the same. So there is no distinction for the reward. That’s actually the perfect way to do it. As equals, all of our names go on the final proposal. So there’s no way to stand out amongst your peers in that team.

So really, and this is probably stating the obvious, but it’s in the team’s interest for the absolute best ideas to be put forward free and untainted by personal ego or other things that sometimes affect what would otherwise be a pure solution?

That is correct. That’s exactly it.

What does it feel like when you arrive at a solution that you all think is a barnstormer?

Even if it’s not face-to-face, you can hear and feel the excitement in a Skype call. Everyone feels it, it’s like this is it, this is the one we’re going for. Sometimes we have two phenomenal ideas and so we present two ideas then. Everyone feels great. It really is that old cliché of the scientist working for knowledge’s sake and to broaden society’s foundation.

But it’s not just the matter of having ideas. I mean you can have an idea, but if you don’t have a team to build it, it’s only an idea. From the first time you say “wow this is it”, there’s a long haul to making it a reality. You know, the original idea isn’t just “here’s the solution X”, it changes and become so much better for how the team molds and shapes it. The idea is enriched by the rest of the team.

What do you get out of working on challenge teams?

I’ve actually talked to many team members after the challenges and they say “why are you doing it?” It’s not the money, but you do learn quite a bit. So it’s a personal challenge, an intellectual challenge, and then of course there are the people.

Is it ever daunting, when you are working on a challenge and the subject matter is not your field of expertise?

That’s a fun part. I just dive into it. And there’s somebody who knows enough about it to find articles and educate the rest of the group. There was one challenge which was related to silicone membranes which I knew very little about. Another team member who did, put a whole bunch of articles in our shared folder which I then spent two days reading.

Do you ever use any creativity aids to help spur your thinking?

No not really. I think the biggest part of creativity is the fear to go into the unknown, to know that you don’t know it. I think Steve Jobs said by more experiences you see more connections. So creativity is truly something like wisdom. It comes better with age, like wine.

And that’s a very interesting part of it. The ages that I’ve worked with are almost all over forty and under sixty-five. And it’s a very interesting age group. In the corporate world, there’s a generation missing. You walk into any corporation and you’ll see grey hair and kids. There’s no middle. It’s like my generation is not present. For entrepreneurship, everybody says the entrepreneurs are under 30, but it’s not true. The highest number of entrepreneurs in the last twenty five years is in my generation.

If you think about it, you never stop creating. People don’t stop creating after thirty. Steve jobs created the whole time he was alive. Steve Jobs and Bill Gates got better with age.

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