Those mannerisms are the mark of a person who is committed, who believes in what he or she is doing, and who wants you to believe with them.
I like being with people like that, and there are many in engineering. They are passionate about their job or their product, and you know they'll put in however many hours it takes to make that next incremental improvement or, better yet, major breakthrough.
You can find people like that anywhere. In my job, I am fortunate to talk to them all the time, people from a variety of industries all passionate about what they do and what more they would like to do. Among them are engineers like Tony Gennari and Kurt Weiss of GE Plastics, or Dave and John Cheyne of Via Systems; Paris Altidis of Borg Warner Automotive, who occasionally contributes articles and software reviews to Design News, and Mark Huebner of Pacific Bearing.
Give me a roomful of people like them. Their energy and enthusiasm are contagious.
How can management encourage and support that kind of energy and enthusiasm? By getting out of the way.
Nothing can dampen enthusiasm like a deaf ear to ideas or an overly strict adherence to procedures. "Skunk works" projects succeed because participants know there are no holds barred and that they won't be strangled by red tape. They can try that crazy solution and know that if it doesn't work, they can try another one.
Is there any reason why every project couldn't be a skunk works?
Management's job more than anything else should be to find ways to tap into the passion and enthusiasm of engineers, encourage them, and spread their spirit. Don't hold them back with negative signals and don't handcuff them.
Bob Reif, of the Indy Racing Series, has said that without a vision, people will perish. Without passion for what they do, they'll also perish, and so will their companies. Management take note: Keep them pumped by clearing bureaucratic minefields.