I think another reason why some engineers do not reach their full creative potential is that we tend to enjoy working on our strengths (math and science) instead of spending more time developing our weaknesses (creativity, innovation, art, etc.).
I'm not suggesting that any engineer can be another Leonardo just by putting more time into creative activities. I'm just saying that an individual's creativity can be improved by focusing more time and effort in this area.
Creativiity is inborn in some and can be nurtured in others. Just after we are born our parents and all next of kin are our best creativity promoters. They teach us how to create sound, walk, talk and the whole enchilada. Once we start talking the promoters become resistors. Dont do this and don't do that instead of "what if you did this instead, approach."
The moral of the stroy is that as long as we feign helplessness we are allowed to be and do things freely. As soon as we develop some talents, the same promoters turn in to objectors to anything one wants to do for the first time because one gets told that "the idea has already been tried several times in the past and it failed everytime."
Nurturing creativity needs permission from the various actors participating in ones play, to allow one to remain open and curious and childlike. The development of ones creativity starts at birth and nearly stops when one starts school.
Can people like parents, elders and teachers collaborate to let the creative juices continue to flow, in the way they were flowing in each child at birth. Working on projects with the creativty hat on, in the current environment, requires courage to bear criticism if the idea fails, even if one is in ones own business.
Those bold enough to practice creativity at all times, reap great rewards. Most important being non-financial, the feeling of satisfaction. My request, to those on the fence, is to jump on the side of creativity and satisfaction so you can sing, "I did it my way." In time, financial rewards will also come.
Most people are generally creative, and most people agree that creativity can be taught in some degree. Some people are most creative when given time to think and others under stress with many people creative inbetween.
With the Internet, it seems that information, resources, and opportunity to benefit from that creativity are there as well as the ability to benefit from the creativity of others.
Perhaps the better question would be, "Given the creativity of people generally, why are we not being flooded by the results of that creativity?"
You're right, Sylvie. In addition to Edison, most of our technology heroes are the same, from Bill Gates to Steve Jobs. They used the creativity of others and created applications that took that creativity to the masses.
David, I certainly agree.I suppose I was just venting a little.As a matter of fact, since necessity is the mother of invention, I would say that most creative design result from "have to" and not "want to".I'm thinking back to the Apollo 13 era, you know—"Houston, we have a problem".The engineers were certainly faced with life vs. death problems in getting our astronauts back home. Their creativity under stress was the difference.I suppose guys like us will never really have unending budgets or time and that's probably a good thing. At GE we had a "kill the engineer" or drop-dead date.The only thing that would move the deadline was a safety issue.The real problem we had was meeting deadlines for the various trade shows, regardless of the program progress.A real pain that one.
I'm with you Dave. As much as it pains me to say, management is not always without a leg to stand on. After all, if we are creative but don't meet the price point or miss the ship date, the business will eventually fail and we have to look for new jobs. In my career it's been more time than cost that's been the depressing constraint.
Other side of the coin: If a business wants to stay ahead and it looks years down the road (instead of the standard 3-6 months), IRnD money and hours MUST be available to do creative things (without the risk-averse management fear of failure). That way you are ready to drop a solution in when it's needed (luck favors the prepared).
I think most (if not all) successful Engineers are very creative. But their target audience demands their output work and meet the requirements. Creativity does NOT trump competence.
@RickNY: My two kids have done Destination Imagination for years and have both actually been on teams that made it to the Global Finals. I agree that this program's approach has definitely "taught" them to think more out of the box, but most importantly, to facilitate collaborative and creative problem-solving. One of the more valuable lessons, I think, is that creativity can't be accomplished in a vacuum. It's the notion of building on ideas and brainstorming with others that really produces the best results.
Perhaps, as some have suggested earlier, "creativity" does not come naturally to Engineers or perhaps it has been "beaten" out of them by the "system", but some Engineers are very creative, and I would argue that creativity is a huge asset to an Engineer. What do Engineers do? - they solve problems. Some times the solutions demand a fair bit of creativity and some times creativity just affords the best solution. I would suggest that the Engineer that brings exoboxic thinking to any problem has an advantage over the Engineer that can't.
So can it be taught? Well, I'm pretty sure it can be learned, so presumably it can be taught. It's obviously inherently stronger in some individuals and therefore they might be easier to teach, but all could benefit from some instruction. I myself have had some fascinating instruction in creative problem solving and I would definitely say it made me a better Engineer.
So, yes it can be taught. Not all individuals will attain the same level of creativity but all of us can be made more creative, with some effort.
@bobjengr: I respectfully disagree with your contention that "the best solution is not necessarily the most trouble-free solution." I think a big part of engineering creativity involves understanding and working within constraints, including tooling constraints. A solution which can't be implemented without completely re-tooling a part may not be an economically feasible solution -- and if it's not economically feasible, it's just plain not feasible. If the part can't be made economically, it simply won't be made.
Economic realities are part of the design space in which we work, just as much as physical laws are. A creative engineer figures out ways to get around the limitations of the manufacturing process. Spending some time out on the shop floor is invaluable in this regard.
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In a line of ultra-futuristic projects, DARPA is developing a brain microchip that will help heal the bodies and minds of soldiers. A final product is far off, but preliminary chips are already being tested.
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