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Myth #3: Engineering is not creative

01 July

Last time I talked about the fact that in real world engineering (unlike school) there can be more than one correct answer.

And finding an solution to a problem often requires engineers to make painful compromises and trade-offs.

There is such a thing as GOOD ENOUGH.  Knowing when to quit.

To find good enough solutions, she must think outside the box.

Another word for that is creativity.  But that bumps up against myth #3 about being an engineer.

Myth #3:  Engineering is not creative.

When I say creativity most people picture an artist.  Someone with a paintbrush or guitar.

They do not think of an engineer.

I remember in school if you were good at math or science class you were often advised to “be an engineer.”

In school everyone works to find the SAME answers in the SAME manner.  It makes grading easier for the teacher and they can measure your progress.

BUT….. that didn’t feel creative to me.  And frankly I hated it, found it sooooooo boring.  I loved playing with legos, drawing, reading, making wire sculptures, playing the french horn loudly and writing music.  I was (and still am) highly creative.

The truth is, real world engineering is more like art class than math class.

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Lumen Display Sketches

We engineers quite literally create objects, from bridges to artificial hearts.

The engineer takes a problem, tries a bunch of solutions and picks the best one.  (see previous post on the decision lotus of confusion)

Often the object is based off of previous technology with minor improvements.  Or it is a re-mix of disparate ideas put together in a new way.  Sampling, like in music.

That is the definition of creativity.  There are very few roadmaps for this process, no list of steps that are guaranteed to reach an answer.

An engineer may use computers and math to solve a problem, but skill with these tools is not enough.  She must also be be creative.

The creative process is the antithesis of math and science class, where the solution and method for finding it are pre-ordained.  School rewards conformity, you get an A for getting the same answer as everyone else using the same methods.

And as with all creative endeavors, conformity is a liability.

Everyone wants the new “IT” tech gadget, and no one finds those by making a phone that looks the same as all the other phones.

An engineer has to take risks.  He has to try new things that haven’t been done before and be willing to fail. Like an artist putting their art on display, he has to do what experience and intuition tell him is the solution.

School most definitely does NOT reward risk taking and failure.

This was in stark contrast to my first jobs where I was encouraged to come up with new ideas or improve on old ones.

They then taught me to evaluate my ideas by either testing them on the computer or by making a model and breaking it.  IT WAS SO MUCH FUN!


Thankfully my parents had encouraged me all throughout school do to extracurricular activities like Odyssey of the Mind, where open-ended problems are the norm and creativity is rewarded.

Many other engineering students struggle in their first job because the mindset rewarded by school is NOT the one required on the job.

And some students are turned away from engineering too early because they think it is boring and uncreative.  It is for them that I write this post.

PLEASE SHARE, get the word out.  Help us corrupt more minors for science.

Next up Myth #4:  You Need Calculus.

One Response to “Myth #3: Engineering is not creative”

  1. Deirdre - austintec.com August 28, 2015 at 11:59 pm #

    This is the main problem with our education system right now, where students were not given a chance for thinking outside the box in order to solve a problem. I think creativity-based education system will be the leading future education system as it would possibilty create better outputs/graduates for the job market! Thank you for such a inspirative blog post anyway!

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