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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Debera, I think you make a very good point about children saying whatever is on their minds. As adults, we have learned to subconsciously apply filters to whatever we are thinking for many reasons including those you mentioned - so that by the time it comes out of our minds, it is no longer our original thoughts. I love how kids just say what they are thinking, although I can certainly think of a time or two where that wasn't the case LOL
Nancy you are absolutely correct ,Kids just dont think what they are saying they are never consious about their talks or conversations.
Secondly what i think is that in our professional enviornment people are never encouraged if they provide any new or creative idea they are always asked to either make some changes in the already existing one or to modify it and if someone tries to creat a new idea then its a bad day for that particular employee .
I agree, Debera - and people are very resistant to even small changes, let alone large ones that require a new way of thinking. It's usually so much easier to do things like you have always done them and in this economy of corporate downsizing people are often asked to wear several hats - being creative would increase an already heavy workload. Part of it is also the corporate culture. If an organization encourages creativity as a foundational value - people won't be afraid to offer creative solutions.
Joseph. In the appliance industry all designs are definitely evolutionary and not revolutionary. The last really "out-of-the -box" idea brought forth by GE Appliances was induction cooking. Great idea but due to complexities and cost, not really that practical. I had one of the very first prototypes in my home and loved it. When the program was killed, GE came, took the range, gave me a standard product and junked the device. There is no doubt in my mind that the pinnacle of engineering creativity was evidenced by Kelly Johnson's "Skunk Works". The SR-71, F104, U-2, etc. are examples of creativity at work. For those guys, education did not edge out creativity. Great post.
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