I took a Psychology of Creativity elective class in college, one of the best courses I ever took, and I would say an individual's creativity can definitely be maximized. Some of the basics of creativity such as the ability to brainstorm multiple ideas, divergent thoughts and to spin variations on concepts are refined through practice and adopting new techniques. Some are much more gifted than others in this area, but most can improve their creative output.
A number of years ago I had a cube mate that couldn't design a fly swatter. He was one of the more brilliant engineers I ever met and was my first resource whenever there was something I couldn't understand. Without hesitation he drop everything, sit down with me, draw some graphs and carefully explain the lost concept. However, when he was called upon to create he could only waste time, hope that the deadline would pass and someone else would get the project. It wasn't long before he finished his PhD and returned to academia as the most gifted professor in the department.
I completely agree with you, Al. I'm not so sure creativity itself can be taught, but the tools in which to foster creativity and spark a certain type of thought pattern can definitely be learned. Acclimating aspiring engineers in the disciplines around collaboration and brainstorming, as well as being open-minded to the ideas of others, is where it all starts.
Being creative is something that can certainly be nurtured and encouraged...or squelched. I think a person's creativity is also partially a result of his or her cultural influences. I agree that diversity in the workplace stimulates creativity because it brings new perspectives to light. I don't think an engineer is inherently less creative than anyone else, just because they are an engineer. Brilliant engineering solutions have been due to creativity. Just like any other skill or ability, each of us has been uniquely formed and some of us will naturally be more creative than others.
Some of the examples remind me of a musician and how the lines blur when talking about creativity. Some musicians can play a song that will bring tears to your eyes but can't compose a note on their own. Other musicians are brilliant composers. Some engineers intuitively understand any circuit or design that you place in front of them, but can't design one of their own. Others can design things that no one has ever thought of...
One thing that I have always tried to drill into my kids is that just because you are good at science and math doesn't exclude you from being artistic. A successful web page designer writes code and does graphic design. You can do anything that you set your mind on and desire to achieve. Maybe not as brilliantly as someone with a natural talent, but you can make up for natural talent in other ways...you just have to have the "want to."
I agree that creativity can not really be taught, but the right tools can spur creativity. Utilization of quality CAD systems can help to create designs through relatively free trial and error of different concepts before publishing the final design.
If creativity can be taught, then we should be seeing Thomas Edisons graduating every year. If one can take a class in it, then there should be hundreds of Steve Jobs cranking out devices we didn't know we had to have, changing the world every day.
In my opinion, "creativity" cannot necessarily be taught, but it can be encouraged. Having worked with numerous PhD types, I realize that many of them have been encouraged to be quite "creative". Unfortunately, just creativity alone does not alway result in a problem solved or a good product design. Creativity must intersect with logic at some point. Unfortunately, only a few of the afforementioned PhD types could routinely produce creative ideas that could pass the logic test.
I read Edward de Bono's book, "Serious Creativity", about 30 years ago. This book helped me learn creative thinking and it has made a significant improvement in my creativity. I really don't think you can teach creativity very effectiviely but I do believe it can be learned as has been proven by many that have used de Bono's information.
For industrial control applications, or even a simple assembly line, that machine can go almost 24/7 without a break. But what happens when the task is a little more complex? That’s where the “smart” machine would come in. The smart machine is one that has some simple (or complex in some cases) processing capability to be able to adapt to changing conditions. Such machines are suited for a host of applications, including automotive, aerospace, defense, medical, computers and electronics, telecommunications, consumer goods, and so on. This discussion will examine what’s possible with smart machines, and what tradeoffs need to be made to implement such a solution.