I have often looked back at my own creativity when I was younger, and wish I could now be as creative as I once was. I think education has played a role; I have learned what I "can't" do. When I was young, I tried to do things that I didn't know were not possible, and in so doing, created. In some cases, I created what had already been created, but that was OK with me.
It's not just education though. I believe there are other factors:
1. As a middle-aged professional, there are many demands/constraints placed on engineering creativity. We have to be done by a specific date, and under a specific cost, and there are techology constraints.
2. Employers often don't know how to or care to encourage creativity. They don't recognize good creation and don't reward it. We are all expected to just do what we are told and work long hours.
3. Our minds are typically not as agile as they once were. We don't take the time to exercise our minds in the right ways to enhance creativity.
4. There are many things we'd rather do than create, because the things require less effort or produce more reward.
5. I have been criticized, when I write, for just re-hashing old technology, rather than presenting anything new. It's not that there aren't any new ideas, it is that the technological paper trail has to be in place or an idea will not be accepted. Ideas are not accepted just because they are creative; they have to be based on older ideas.
6. We are expected to only produce good ideas when in reality, most ideas are either bad ones or ideas that some else already had. Thomas Edison had some good ideas (or at least he capitalized on the ideas of others), but he also had some very bad ideas, e.g. concrete furniture. He didn't invent the light bulb; he just made some improvements to it.
So how do we maintain creativity? Ignore deadlines and cost constraints (ever wonder why engineers often do this?), learn to encourage creativity in others, take time to color outside the lines or gaze at the stars frequently, don't always choose the immediate-gratification path, start your own paper trail, and don't worry about generating bad ideas. Just work hard and be faithful, you'll get your reward!
I agree to your comment that usually people are discouraged thinking out the box.However it is the fact that kindergarten children are more creative than adults and there are reasons for that, first of all children just dont think they just split out what is going in their minds without considering whether it is possible or not and that is the most important thing in generating new ideas.Secondly adults usually are in different sort of stress it can be any and that act as a hinderance in generating new ideas .Third the most important one is because adults are sensible they think before they speak similarly they think alot before generating new ideas wheather it will be acceptable by the higher authorities like government and so on and they themselves assume that it will either be not accepted or it will be very difficult going all around the processes of government so they just stop their minds there only.Similarly in many organisations they just ask their employees to follow specified guidelines and follow defined SOPS this kills their thinking and creative approach.
The lack of creativity in engineering can also be cultural. Some cultures discourage thinking "outside of the box." All math problems for example, are to be worked in one particular way. If a student attempts a different approach, they are chastized rather than encouraged. The children are taught to think in a uniform manner which stifles creativity, because "new" thinking has been discouraged. If one deviates from the prescribed method (regardless of the reason) they will face negative consequences.
Totally_Lost, You make some very good valid points regarding availablity of technology and solving problems. Also, there is another element to stifle creativity and that is radical ideas or concepts that individuals fear or not able to grasp. Preston Tucker had radical ideas about safety and convenience features for automobiles but the Big 3 felt threaten and therefore squashed his dream car concept. Although Preston believed in his vision and the contributions the lone inventor can make to society , some folks' convictions are not strong enough to stand against the Big Machines of Bureauracy. Those who aspire to create are now afraid to do so because of previous squashed attempts to improve society.
Charles, I have to agree as an engineer as well ... this is explictly a point I make to young engineers I hire, and even my daughter in mechanical engineering school.
Everything we do as engineers builds on others advances ... in design, in materials, in production equipment, in components, in subassemblies, and in completed products. Nearly all of us if we were transported back to 2000BC, would find our skills completely useless, because few have enough of the complete knowledge needed to rebuild the composite infrastrure behind our trade today. In most cases, even a few hundred carefully selected people, would not be enough to recreate a fraction of the supporting infrastructure we take for granted, in their remaining lifetimes, if transported back to 2000BC.
No matter how hard we try, the projects we design for production, are at least founded on the ability to source materials and manufacture them. That in itself is the enabiling part of every technology.
I, and nearly every other really good engineer, have had truely great ideas at some time, that simply could not be implement or manufactured at that time ... or even 10 years later, because the supporting components, tooling, fabrication, and materials would not yield a viable working product.
Sometimes, the market just doesn't exist for the product yet.
That doesn't stop us from putting it in the back of our minds, and re-evaluating the state of the art every few years, until we can find a way to make the product a reality, in a thriving market.
Charles, I totally agree to what you wrote. I do the same for writing my books, and articles: I put a new spin on previous written material and I use personal experiences. As adults we have been conditioned to using experience as a way of putting a new spin on something old. Although, I still believe creativity in adults is not dead.
As a writer, I find myself getting ideas from previous articles in Design News or articles I've seen elsewhere. I often read other magazines -- the New Yorker, for example -- that have content that's completely unrelated to the content in Design News. Sometimes, I find that the treatment of a certain topic can be applied to our articles, resulting in a fresh approach. I also look at old DN articles for ideas. Next week, for example, we're running an article about famous people who started out as engineers. That article idea was taken directly from a story I wrote in 1998. So, now, I'm actually borowing ideas from myself. The bottom line is, I'm at an age when most of my ideas ar borrowed. I can take a fresh approach or put a new twist on it, but part of the idea is nevertheless borrowed from a bank of experience.
Interesting article. Looking at Taylors's Hierarchy of Creativity and its definition, it almost looks like Emergent Creativity should flow back into Expressive Creativity as the next step for continuity like a circle, rather than a pyramid. (Reminds me of the Tao sign where things flow back to their original source).
Your summation of Engineer's developments is absolutely true. We are homogeneously blended into the world around us, and cannot help but behave in predictable fashion.
Regarding patents, I'd estimate that 99% of all patents granted at the USPTO are derivative in nature. Ironically, one primary criterion used to actually "grant" a patent is novelty. (I speak from experience, I have 24 granted. ONE is pretty cool; the others,,,,not so much). Almost seems to be an oxy-moron, doesn't it-?
Conversely, when I was in the thick of on-going product development for an electronics Giant in the 90's, the vast engineering community, rewarded for patent disclosures per person, had the common slang, "N-I-H", meaning Not-Invented-Here, so they would always attempt to derive around the most obvious solutions in order to get a new feather in their cap.
In many engineering workplaces, theres a generational conflict between recent engineering graduates and older, more experienced engineers. However, a recent study published in the psychology journal Cognition suggests that both may have something to learn from another group: 4 year olds.
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