Rebeltalk Podcast

The Curious Rebel: Maria Ingold

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By Mark Choueke on 1st August 2019

Maria studied both computer science and fine art at university. A TED speaker and former FilmFlex Movies CTO who grew up “off-grid, Maria is a former IBM programmer, a BAFTA judge and advisor, an artist and an occasional actress. "Definitions don't work for me."

As we move from childhood to adulthood, we place countless rules and restrictions on ourselves, especially with regard to career. 

Beginning with an education system that TED speaker Sir Ken Robinson has long argued is almost designed to kill creativity, we quite quickly accept and conform to narrow definitions of our own perspectives, skills and ability to contribute - definitions that shape our entire careers and the way we’re perceived by others. 

“He’s a scientist”; “she’s a creative”, and so on.

By her own admission Maria Ingold, also a TED speaker and former FilmFlex Movies CTO, grew up “off-grid”. This could be why she simply wasn’t aware of the tiresome convention for narrowing one’s professional field and specialising in something at the expense of almost everything else.

Maria studied both computer science and fine art at university. She’s worked in visual technology for some of the largest tech companies in the world, starting her career as an IBM programmer. Yet she’s also a BAFTA judge and advisor, an artist and an occasional actress.

Now, as founder and CEO of strategic and technical innovation consultancy Mireality, Maria talks about the difference between innovating vertically - which she says is what most of us do - and innovating laterally, to drive true revolutionary thinking. 

She believes she owes her worldview and perspective to her father - a decorated rocket scientist who also studied geology, anthropology, physics, mathematics, linguistics and chemistry. 

“He could do solar because he understood electricity; he pretty much invented the in-ear thermometer and studied seven languages, six of which he still speaks fluently,” according to Maria.

Living in a self-built home in the desert in New Mexico Maria’s father - a man who worked on Apollo 13, improving the efficiency of the landing rockets from 200 miles to 3 miles and saving the lives of the astronauts in the process - taught her everything.

She learned to help him fix cars - something that would come in handy on a recent road-trip the pair took from New Mexico to LA to meet Elon Musk at SpaceX. 

Maria also learned to deal with the sexism, sexual harassment, bullying and gender pay gap that she would face as she shot to the top of the tech industry. “I always had to work hard to get respect,” she says, “even though I was very good at my job.”

“It never put me off, it just made me more determined. My approach is to be there and be a role model to other women and girls rather than talking about it all of the time.”

In a world that’s changing fast in so many ways, schools are placing creativity, critical thinking and risk-taking at the top of their curriculum priorities in a bid to equip our children for a future world and economy that is hard to imagine.

With that future in mind, as well as the skills that we’ll need to thrive within it, it feels likely that the skill Maria shares with her father Norm - the ability to see, work and innovate laterally across disciplines - will be essential. 

RebelTalk is co-hosted by Mark Choueke and Nicole Lyons, and produced by Meg Wright.

Episodes are recorded and engineered by Hard Six Audio. Special thanks to Spiritland Studio.

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