Engineering Venn3

Myth #2: There is only one correct answer.

17 June

Last post I talked about how hard work will get a person further innate talent.

This week I talk about why being good at school may be a liability in real world engineering.

Yes, I really did say that.

Myth #2:  There is only one correct answer

I remember in math class all throughout school that there was only ONE correct answer.  Period.  This was true of most subjects.

This trend continued into college.  And if I didn’t solve the problem exactly as the teacher wanted I would receive points off my score.  EVEN IF I FOUND THE CORRECT ANSWER.

Perfectionists and conformists are rewarded by school.  This is not the teachers fault, this is how our modern school system is designed at all levels.  Teachers are simply doing their job.

But in the real world of engineering perfectionism is a liability.

In reality there are a range of answers that will solve an problem.  AND several ways to reach that answer.

A good engineer looks at all the options and figures out the optimal answer.

Engineering vs school2

This optimal answer not only solves the problem in front of her, it also takes into account other factors.  The solution has to be easy and inexpensive to manufacture, uses tools she has access to, fits the schedule, and looks good to the end user.  There are a LOT of variables that go into why something is made the way it is.

In reality engineering looks more like this.  Finding the sweet spot in the center.

Engineering Venn3

The Decision Lotus of Confusion.

And oh man is that sweet spot sweet.  It is engineer nirvana, the unicorn, holy grail, pure bliss.

Usually a solution requires painful trade-offs and the sweet spot eludes all of us.

I’ve only achieved it once in my 13 year career and I thought it was a fluke.  I kept thinking I’d missed some detail, a hidden pain point.  It had to cost more, take longer to manufacture, impact a connecting part negatively, etc etc etc.  But everyone I talked it over with agreed, I had found a unicorn!

unicorn

A perfectionist engineer will work hard to find the one best answer to the problem, but that will take him FOREVER.

And rest assured no matter how elegant the solution is, his boss won’t be happy with it being a year late.

If it looks ugly or is too complicated for the end user, it won’t sell no matter how perfectly is solves the problem.

If it uses a manufacturing method that costs 5 times as much as the technology his company already uses, it will be a very hard sell to management.

Ideas that don’t sell don’t make his company money.  They don’t get made (usually, haha).  And they certainly don’t earn him promotions or raises.

In engineering there is such a thing as GOOD ENOUGH.  Knowing when to quit.

School does NOT reward this attitude.  It earns you a C.

School also rewards conformity.  Everyone does the SAME problems and reaches the SAME solutions with the SAME methods.

But as with perfectionism, conformity is a liability in the real world of engineering.  Why?

Check out myth #3!

2 Responses to “Myth #2: There is only one correct answer.”

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