Personality Elements That Cause Engineering Excellence – Georgios Ardavanis (Ph.D.)

Delivering The Highest Quality Fabrics

This chapter is taken from my book “Engineering Excellence DNA and Applied Systems Engineering,” which was published in 2022. 


In engineering excellence, people who excel must have many skills such as the way they direct and receive energy, the way they receive information, the way they decide and draw conclusions, and the way they approach the outside world. Specifically, these engineers are usually introverted, rational, and sometimes intuitive, where they constantly think and judge.

Introverted engineers are those who tend to direct their energy toward their inner world and are activated by contemplating their ideas and experiences. Rational engineers tend to get information that is real and tangible. They focus mainly on what they perceive using the five senses (sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch). However, there are times when at the same time they tend to receive information by looking at the big picture. When they focus mainly on the patterns and interactions they perceive and therefore seem to be rather intuitive. Thinking engineers usually base their decisions and conclusions on logic, with precision and objective truth in the primary objectives. Engineers who like to judge usually come to quick conclusions to go ahead and adopt an organized, planned approach to the engineering project. 

Engineering excellence requires people who have a strong sense of responsibility, great loyalty, and faith in their organizations and their professional relationships. They work hard to fulfill their commitments as promised and on time. They will make every effort to accomplish something they deem necessary but will resist doing anything that does not make sense to them. Further, engineers striving for excellence generally prefer to work on their own and be accountable for the results. However, they feel comfortable working as members of a team when it is necessary to do the job properly when the roles are clearly defined, and when everyone is fulfilling the responsibilities assigned to them. Engineers striving for excellence have a deep respect for facts. They have an internal repository of information from which they draw information to understand the present. Thus, they are likely to be practical, realistic, and systematic.

Engineers striving for excellence make decisions using an objective, logical, and tough approach. Their focus is on the project and not on the individuals. Thus, they tend to be rational, analytical, detached, and rational. In the pursuit of engineering, excellence is clear and consistent in the opinion of these engineers, because they have reached it by applying logical criteria based on their experience and knowledge. They believe that there are standard procedures because they work. They will only support change when the facts prove that it will bring better results.       

Engineers who seek excellence are also sociable when they feel comfortable in the roles they play. However, they generally do not share the wealth of rich observations and memories except with close associates. Engineers looking for technical excellence may find it difficult to see the needs of third parties that are quite different from their own. However, once they are convinced that something matters to a person they care about, that need becomes a fact. They will then go to great lengths to meet the need, even while continuing to think it does not make sense. However, there are cases where engineers seeking technological excellence are calm, reserved, serious, consistent, and neatly tangible in their traditions. Engineering excellence at the level of Elon Musk is applied through “Creating a Feedback Loop” where engineers take what someone has done and adjust it to how they would be doing it better.

In a Quantum Workplace article by Kristin Ryba in 2019, she believes that depending on how a company integrates feedback into the culture, it greatly affects employee engagement. Research shows that feedback initiatives – such as face-to-face meetings, formal recognition programs, and annual employee surveys – are much more common at highly engaged companies. Many studies have found that employee recognition increases retention and productivity. Organizations with a strong feedback culture let their engineers’ voices lead the way in product and company improvements, whether they are involved in R&D facilitating a transition, reducing turnover, or improving corporate communication. There are also times when companies see financial improvements when they hear engineers’ comments. Designing a feedback culture is not something that just happens, it is intentional. The following ten steps are required to be implemented by an engineering culture to improve employee performance: (1) Cultivate a growth mentality. Engineers with a developmental mindset believe that their skills can be developed through dedication and hard work. They consider their innate abilities as a starting point and have a love for learning. Strong feedback cultures are highly appreciated in this mentality. They value learning and development and see feedback as an opportunity for improvement. And they do not just say that they value these things, on the contrary, they show it and incorporate it into their business. Here are some ways you can cultivate a growth mindset in your organization: (a) Make it part of your hiring process. Is the candidate a lifelong learner? Do they independently pursue growth? How do they talk about and respond to failure? (b) Recognize growing and getting better. Outputs are not the only thing worthy of recognition. Regularly recognize employees when they are investing in their growth; (c) Drive with vulnerability. Strong leaders admit weaknesses and show a willingness to take and learn from feedback. Be transparent about where the organization and leadership can improve; (2) Provide feedback training. Both giving and receiving feedback are skills. Like any ability, they must be developed and practiced. Share how-to(s) on giving and receiving employee feedback. Let employees observe examples of good and bad feedback interactions. Educate your fellow engineers on how to communicate feedback effectively. Help them understand their resistance to feedback. Train them to ask questions, look for examples, and clarify meaning. Develop the manager’s skills in setting development goals for employees and helping them achieve those goals; (3) Adjust the tone from the top. When fellow engineers see that their leaders are applying strong feedback principles, they are more likely to align and do the same. Leading engineers need to improve their ability to give and receive feedback and set an example. They should consistently ask for feedback (up and down the hierarchy and sideways) and clearly show that they are receiving good feedback; (4) Create a secure environment for feedback. The development of a feedback culture at work is based on an important factor, and that is the existence of employees who are willing to give honest feedback. Employees need to feel safe and aware that providing feedback will not have a negative impact. This starts with building trust and is enhanced by how feedback is received. Different employees will have different levels of comfort in both giving and receiving feedback. It is important to respect and not impose feedback; (5) Set clear expectations around feedback. Create organizational standards for what feedback looks like and consistently convey that message to managers and employees. Set organizational expectations around your feedback structure. Address questions such as: Who gives feedback? Who receives it? How often does it occur? How do we do it? What is the goal of feedback? (6) Practice makes you perfect. When feedback happens regularly, it becomes a culture. It integrates into everyday operations, and we get better at it. Culture is made up of shared traditions, habits, artifacts, and language. Look for opportunities to create these shared experiences around giving and receiving feedback; (7) Use different feedback channels. A feedback culture does not only have one way to give or receive feedback. People prefer to receive feedback in many ways, and different situations call for different feedback channels. By providing a variety of feedback channels, you allow engineers to give feedback in a way that they are most comfortable in different situations. Think about what type of feedback would be most effective for setting up, donating, and receiving: Attributed vs. anonymous, 1-on-1 vs. 360-degree feedback, Individual vs. group, or face-to-face vs. written; (8) Cultivate positive and corrective comments. Everyone loves positive feedback. But if you focus only on the good things, you run the risk of ignoring the problems and putting stagnation in the development of your employees. On the other hand, if you focus only on corrective feedback, you run the risk of ignoring successes and underestimating employee contributions. Find the right balance of positive and corrective feedback and provide an outlet for employees to give and receive both regularly; (9) Highlight the decisions made based on feedback. When you decide or change based on someone’s feedback, let them know. Do not focus only on communicating the decision or change; focus on why. “Why did we do this? Because of your feedback.” Feedback is a gift. If you do not use it and appreciate the gift, you might not get another one. Having a feedback culture means that you respond and act on feedback. Employees need to see that giving feedback is worth their time. Do not underestimate the value of following up on what you do with the feedback; (10) Strengthen your team with feedback tools. A technology partner can facilitate feedback processes by giving employees an easy way to record notes from feedback sessions, conduct two-way feedback conversations, request 360-degree feedback, give positive feedback via recognition, and collect feedback via surveys. This takes the administrative work out of feedback, allowing everyone to focus on growth.

Engineers do not have to be experts in their field alone. They also need to know how the other parts of the products they are building work as well. Elon Musk expects everyone to be a chief engineer. They need to have at least a basic understanding of how the whole concept of the SpaceX rocket or Tesla car works. Precisely because peer engineers have in-depth expertise in the specialized field of the rocket or car, they will not be able to feel if the work they are doing or the ideas and improvements that are produced are for the good of the product, unless they know how it works the whole idea of a rocket and a car. Design and build errors and flows occur when engineers do not understand how a complete system operates throughout the design and construction of the product.

Another engineering application that is used now by Elon Musk is the “Reasoning from First Principles.” The idea is to break down complicated problems into basic elements and then reassemble them from the ground up. It is one of the best ways to learn to think for yourself, unlock your creative potential, and move from linear to non-linear results. This approach was used by the Greek philosopher Aristotle. It allows them to go through the fog of bad logic and inadequate proportions to see opportunities missed by others. Thus, the most difficult thing to do is to figure out what question to ask, when you have the questions the best answers become available. Aristotle, writing on first principles, said: In any systematic research, in the Greek language called “Methodos”, where there are first principles, or causes, or elements, then the knowledge, and science arises from the acquisition of knowledge of them; because we believe that we know something only if we acquire knowledge of the primary causes, of the primary first principles, down to the facts.” Aristotle later linked the idea with knowledge, defining the first principles as “the first basis from which a thing becomes known.” The Search for the First Principles Thought is not unique to philosophy. All great thinkers do it. Reasoning by first principles removes the impurity of assumptions and conventions. What remains is the essentials. It’s one of the best mental models you can use to improve your thinking because the essentials allow you to see where reasoning can lead you by analogy. Herein, we will explore the Socratic Question approach. The Socratic questioning can be used to establish first principles through rigorous analysis. This is a disciplined process of questioning, used to establish truths, reveal underlying assumptions, and separate knowledge from ignorance. The basic distinction between Socratic questioning and ordinary debate is that the former seeks to formulate the first principles systematically. Socratic questioning generally follows this process: (1) Clarifying your thinking and explaining the origin of your ideas (Why am I thinking this? What exactly am I thinking?); (2) Challenging assumptions (How do I know this is true? What if I thought otherwise?); (3) Search for evidence (How can I support it? What are the sources?); (4) Examining alternative perspectives (What can others think? How do I know I’m right?); (5) Examining the consequences and implications (What if I make a mistake? What are the consequences if I am?); (6) Challenging the initial questions (Why did I think that? Was I right? What conclusions can I draw from the reasoning process?)

The process of Socratic questioning prevents you from relying on your gut and limits strong emotional responses. This process helps you build something that lasts. Perhaps no one embodies the early principles of thinking more than Elon Musk. He is one of the most daring entrepreneurs the world has ever seen. What is most interesting about Musk is not what he thinks but how he thinks. According to him, “the thought process of people is to commit to a convention or analogy with previous experiences.” It is rare for people to try to think of something based on the first principles. They will often say, “We will do this because it has always been done this way.” Or they will not do it because “Well, no one has ever done it, so it should not be good.” But that’s just a ridiculous way of thinking. You must create the rationale from the beginning – “from the first principles” is the phrase used in physics. You look at the basics and build your reasoning from it, and then you see if you have a conclusion that works or does not work and may or may not be different from what people have done in the past. For example, Elon Musk’s approach to understanding reality is to start with what is true – not with his intuition. The problem is that we do not know as much as we think we do, so our intuition is not very good. We deceive ourselves and believe that we know what is possible and what is not. The way Elon Musk is thinking is much different. Musk starts with something he wants to achieve, like building a rocket. Then he starts with the first principles of the problem. Analyzing how Elon Musk would think, Google’s Larry Page said in an interview, “What is the physics of it? How long will it take? How much will it cost? How much cheaper can I make it? There is this level of engineering and physics that you need to make judgments about what is possible and interesting. Elon Musk is unusual in that he knows that, and he also knows business and organization and leadership and governmental issues.

Rockets are absurdly expensive, which is a problem because Musk wants to send people to Mars. And to send people to Mars, you need cheaper rockets. So, he asked himself, “What is a rocket made of? Aerospace-grade aluminum alloys, plus some titanium, copper, and carbon fiber. And what is the value of those materials on the commodity market? It turned out that the materials cost of a rocket was around 2% of the typical price.” Why, then, is it so expensive to get a rocket into space? Elon Musk, a notorious self-taught man with degrees in both economics and physics, literally taught himself rocket science. He thought that the only reason it is so expensive to transport a rocket into space is that people are stuck in a mentality that does not meet the first principles. With that, Elon Musk decided to create SpaceX and see if he could build rockets from the ground up himself. In an interview with Kevin Rose, Elon Musk summed up his approach in the following statement: “I think it is important to reason from the first principles rather than by analogy.” So, the usual way we conduct our lives is, we reason by analogy. We are doing this because it is like something else that was done, or it is like what other people are doing, with slight iterations on a theme. And this is mentally easier for someone to reason by analogy rather than from first principles. First principles are a kind of a physics way of looking at the world, and what that means is, you, summarize things in the most fundamental truths and say, “Okay, what are we sure is true?”, and then reason up from there. That requires a lot more mental energy.”

Elon Musk has given an example of how Tesla cars use first principles to innovate at low prices. For example, one might say – and in fact, many people do that – that battery packs are expensive and will always be so because they used to be. Well, no, that’s a misconception. Because if you applied this reasoning to anything new, then you could never get to this new product. For example, you cannot say that no one wants a car because horses are great, and because we are used to them and because they can eat grass and because there is a lot of grass everywhere, then you do not need to buy a car and therefore do not need to buy gasoline. He then gives a fascinating example about battery packs. Historically, a battery pack costs $600 per kilowatt-hour. And so, it is not going to be much better than that in the future. So, the first principle would be, what are the material constituents of the batteries? What is the spot market value of the material constituents? It has got cobalt, nickel, aluminum, carbon, and some polymers for separation, and a steel can. So, break that down on a material basis; if we bought that on a London Metal Exchange, what would each of these things cost? Oh, holy cow, it is $80 per kilowatt-hour. So, you just need to think of clever ways to take those materials and combine them into the shape of a battery cell, and you can have batteries that are much, much cheaper than anyone realizes.

The culture of engineering excellence could also be seen as an organizational model of common core assumptions that a team learned as it solved its problems. Understanding and shaping the culture of engineering excellence is critical to success. The assumptions, policies, and procedures are sometimes stated explicitly and taught to new members as the correct way to behave and get things done. You can ignore your corporate culture, but it will not ignore you, your fellow engineers, and the other companies you partner with and depend on. Poor alignment of engineers with corporate culture leads to unproductive work efforts, disagreements, and generally uncomfortable workplaces. For example, a company may declare itself Agile and use Scrum methodologies to develop its software. If a CEO is constantly introducing new features in the middle of sprints, then it is a culture of totalitarian dictatorship. Likewise, if workers are punished for failure, then a culture of innovation cannot flourish. Kevin Scott, vice president of engineering, describes how he built the engineering teams at LinkedIn and AdMob. Scott has almost 40 detailed aspects in his Cultural Manifesto of Engineering, which fall into three categories: (1) How we do things: coding standards, reviews, and design patterns; (2) How we operate things: planning, monitoring, data integrity; (3) How we function as a team: values, team structure, transparency. This category covers all the values, as well as the company’s focus and purpose that traditionally have been part of the culture for an entire company.

A simpler, higher-end model is offered by Martin Buberl, who lists eight steps toward a culture of engineering excellence for a software engineering organization: Are you innovative? Are you agile? Are you open? Are you transparent? Are you diverse? Are you good? Are you social? Are you happy?

The model poses these questions as questions that a developer engineer should ask and usually receives “yes” answers before joining a company. It is worth taking the time to define your company culture because it is so important to your success. The culture of engineering excellence in your organization must be clearly and explicitly defined, and it is best you will be aware of it. Knowing the culture of engineering excellence of your company also allows you to better understand the culture of other companies. Look for cultural alignment between you and the partner companies on which you depend. Make culture matching an important part of evaluating and selecting your partner whether outsourcing hardware or software to ensure that you will attack and solve problems in the same way. Cultural alignment with your engineering outsourcing partner is critical to achieving the transparent communication, innovation, and agility required to create excellent engineering applications.

Becoming the best means never being satisfied with what you have done. It has to do with constantly improving who you are. Of course, success will come because you know who you are and what you stand for. It is about initiating, and continually creating situations that will force you to become more than you are today. Cleanse yourself of all your imperfections. This is your journey. No matter how good your strategy is, if you are not good at what you do, this strategy will not take you far. Once you are sure of what you are doing and clear where you are going, the right strategy will become known. Hence, when your “why” is strong, you’ll figure out “how.” The how comes from the why. Not the other way around. If you are looking for how to be successful, you are going about it all wrong. You are doing it for the wrong reasons. And you will continuously be left searching for the next patch of land to find gold. If you know what you want and why you do it, do not worry about the “gold”. Your security is internal. Do not worry about the outcomes because you already know they will come. For you, it was never really about rewards. It was only and always to see how far you can go to achieve the impossible, to never stop. Remove everything external and you will continue with the same intensity you always have. Give you everything - fame, money, whatever else - and it will not derail you.

If you want to become the best, you can then consider the following five steps:

At first work for yourself, not on your job. “Work hard at your job and you can make a living. Work hard on yourself and you can make a fortune.”  – Jim Rohn

Your work reflects you. If you do not get the results you are looking for, stop looking for better strategies. Instead, look at your inner self and your inner reality. Are you currently the person who would attract the level of success you are looking for? Your external circumstances reflect your internal reality. As James Allen said, your circumstances reveal yourself. Where are you right now? Who are you? If you want something different, then you must improve yourself.

Most people focus on their “job.” That is all well and good. However, you will get far more value for your buck by focusing on yourself. 20% of your energy should be devoted to your work. 80% of your energy should be devoted to rest and self-improvement. This is what fuels your work and makes it better than anyone else’s. Self-improvement is more than books and true rest is renewal. As others strive to improve their job, you are constantly improving yourself, expanding your vision, skills, and abilities. This is like Stephen R. Covey’s 7th principle: Sharpen your saw. Most people try to cut their trees with a blunt saw. “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the ax.” -  Abraham Lincoln.

In a short time, you will have developed real mastery. Everyone else is trying to improve their “skills”. Do not work on your job. Work on yourself. When you do this, your work will far outweigh what other people produce with difficulty. Your work will be cleaner, clearer, and more powerful because you will be more evolved as an individual. Most people you are “competing” against are in an inner mess.

Second, you must put yourself consistently into situations that others can only dream of. “Necessity is the mother of invention.” -  English Proverb.

Your results do not reflect your talent. Many people have talent. However, few people are called upon to face a difficult challenge. Most people never put themselves in a difficult situation – situations that humiliate and frighten them. You have to put yourself in positions that put a lot of pressure on you. This kind of pressure will either push you to the top or break you. This is how you drive away your weakness and micro-psyche. It will not be pretty. But it will change you. And eventually, you will rise to something “new”, “changed”, and definitely “better”. You must face challenges that require you to become much more than you are today. You must put your back to the wall, so you have no choice but to produce. This is how you evolve. How do you put yourself in these situations? You must initiate the first steps toward the accomplishment of your difficult assignments. You do not expect life to come to you. You are not waiting for the “next” opportunity. Improve your current situation or “job” by providing real value. You pitch ideas. You ask questions. You try and fail. You take on roles that require greater responsibility. “Leadership” is available to everyone. You just need to assume a leadership role. You can do this now, no matter what situation you are in. You do this enough, and by constantly pitching yourself and your ideas, you will create opportunities. Then maximize these opportunities and more will come. Opportunities are like ideas. The more you use them, instead of letting them simmer, the more opportunities will follow. Most people sit on their ideas for far too long and they become stale. Likewise, most individuals sit at their opportunities too long and stop their self-evolution and progress.

Third, do not copy other people. Get them to copy you. “From this point on, your strategy is to get everyone else up to your level, you will not go down on their own. You are not competing with anyone else, never again. They need to compete with you.” - Tim Grover.

If you continue to imitate other people’s work, good luck. If you’re trying to replicate other people’s work and results, what does that say about your inner compass? What does this say about your motivations? Are you just trying to figure out what works? Are you looking for the “how”? Do you know where you are going? If you are following in the footsteps of someone else, where do you think these tracks will take you, to your destination or to theirs? And even if you were happy with their destination, do you think you could do better than them? It’s their way. They are driven by something deep and internal. You cannot move forward if you are always a few steps behind or if you are always reacting instead of creating. If you do not know who you are, you will always try to be someone else. And so, you will never be the best. Your work will always be a cheap imitation. It will lack the feeling that produced the work or the idea.

Fourth, stay in love with the process. “The more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war.” -  Norman Schwarzkopf.

The process of the work itself is all there is. The results come and go. However, success can be achieved easily because it is the last thing on your mind. You already know it is going to happen. The work itself is what should drive you. It almost does not matter what you do. That’s why you do what matters. The “what” can and has many forms. Do not over-attach to one role. Whether you are a leader or employee, the “what” does not matter. Why you do it and subsequently how you do it is what matters. Hence, how you do anything is how you do everything. When you are in love with the process, you seek feedback, guidance, and coaching - even when you are at the top of your game. Surround yourself with people who are not afraid to tell you the truth. You avoid people who suck up and only tell you what they think you want to hear. Those are not friends. They have an agenda. Self-transcendence comes from collaborating with others who are driven by a larger and larger vision when the whole becomes fundamentally different than the sum of its parts when the work is the reward.

Go beyond anything you have ever imagined and give complete openness to the possibilities. If you do not constantly improve and work with better people, you will never realize it. When you improve yourself and your work and produce, then opportunities will come. They will only help to come because you are like a magnet that pulls them in. Lastly, do not pretend you are doing this. So many times, it happens too fast. You trade your passion for glory. Do not lose control of the dreams of the past. You must fight just to keep them alive. You must have “Eye of the Tiger” according to the song of the band Survivor. It amazes me how often I see engineers today getting rid of their value systems in the hope of quick success. When I see this happening, I already know that these engineers will not succeed in the long run. They do not have a “why” – or they have forgotten it. They do not have an inner compass. As a result, they don’t know where they are headed. It is a catastrophic path. The moment you start to compromise, you will not stop compromising. Clayton Christensen, an innovation expert, has stated: Many of us have convinced ourselves that we can break our rules “just this once.” In our minds, we can justify these small choices. None of those things, when they first happen, feels like a life-changing decision. The marginal costs are almost always low. But each of those decisions can form a much bigger picture, turning you into the kind of person you never wanted to be. This, unfortunately, is more common than not. It is so common that it is almost expected. Therefore, few people become the best at what they do. They end up becoming something much less.

According to Jochen Gleisbeg (2018), regarding the creation of a strong model of Engineering Excellence at the corporate level, he has stated that electrification, automation, and digitization bring about a fundamental change for engineering-based companies. The challenges these companies face are twofold. On the one hand, companies need to adapt to the latest technologies, for example, autonomous vehicles or artificial intelligence, and develop the corresponding know-how. At the same time, they need to improve their current product portfolio, while facing increasing competitive pressure, falling prices, and increasingly tight budgets. The answer to this paradoxical problem is what Gleisberg and his team call “excellence.” With a thorough and systematic analysis, companies can identify inefficient or wasteful structures and processes in their organizations. After that, they can then set the level of their ambitions and start the required changes.

In times of technological change, Gleisberg and his team have identified ten key areas for improvement. It is possible to save 15% – 25% for companies that address all relevant sectors. These include (1) Portfolio and requirement management: The choice of a company’s products determines its engineering decisions. Clear market fragmentation, long-term technology roadmaps, well-defined cycle planning, and strict prioritization of development projects are part of a list of best practices; (2) Simulation, prototyping and testing: Optimized validation and verification procedures and coordinated design and procurement of prototypes to reduce overall effort and engineering costs are best practices in this area; (3) System architecture and variant management: Having the maximum degree of modularization and clearly distinguishing between platform and application should be aimed for; (4) Lean engineering: Best practices include lean and robust processes, tools, automation, and process standardization to avoid over-engineering, and reduce the administrative burden and non-productive waiting time so as to maximize pure engineering time; (5) Project management: Strict and transparent project management and monitoring and robust, realistic landmark design are ideal; (6) Global R&D footprint: It is recommended to optimize the distribution of work between different regions and to take into account labor costs; (7) Core competencies/”make or buy”: Best practices include key competencies that come from the brand position, defining what is key and what is not, redistributing tasks, and responding to the “do or buy” decision; (8) Organizational structure: Optimized allocation of tasks and responsibilities across the entire development and related organizations, support for a stronger system perspective, and improved interfaces; (9) Transparency and performance measurement: Best practices here include general and research and development specific key performance indicators for all phases of the project; (10) Resource and budget management: Best practices include optimizing the available and required resources and planning and controlling the target budget at project level.

Adherence to the proposed guidelines for achieving engineering excellence will not only solve problems in the current design and development processes but will prepare you for future success. By establishing best practices and an innovation-oriented mindset, you create an organization that thrives in times of technological downturn.

In the history of mankind, there have been many innovative ideas in science and technology that have changed the way we do things. Here are just a few examples of creativity in modern engineering: (1) Bullet trains: Japan’s high-speed bullet train, or Shinkansen, is earthquake-proof and the maximum operating speed is 322 km per hour, an idea that would once be unlikely. To exist, one had to imagine a new possibility that had not yet been invented and even took inspiration from the composition of a kingfisher to reduce the noise it created; (2) Bagless vacuum cleaners. It may seem normal now, but it was only in 1991 that James Dyson began to investigate the standard vacuum cleaner and look for a new solution that would prevent the bags from getting clogged and causing the machine to lose suction. Dyson created a brand-new solution that hadn’t yet been thought of.

Every new product has a team of engineers behind it, creating, researching, and designing services that impact the physical world. The ability to troubleshoot and identify multiple solutions, or even brand-new solutions, becomes an essential part of an engineer’s job. By creating these skills from the beginning of your career as an engineer, you are building the mentality that all engineers should strive for. Educational institutions offer more and more engineering-specific courses and qualifications, which means we can expect future generations of engineers to have both the creativity and the imagination to continue to meet the challenges we face as a global community.

In the world of technical development, engineering peers who have gained the label “creative” are highly sought after. However, how does a manager know that his engineers are creative? By what process of evaluation do we contend that Engineer A is a creative one while Engineer B is not? A manager cannot afford to theorize and think too much about the question. When faced with a technical problem that requires a solution, he must develop a set of criteria by which he can decide on this indeterminate feature of thought or behavior. This designation allows for pragmatism, such as selecting a person from the professional staff to be given an assignment that seems to require creativity. As an engineering leader, the engineering manager is trained to quantify, to attach measured data to people’s achievements. Therefore, he develops a set of quantifying criteria, in the process of selecting the person who appears to be best qualified to generate a solution to the technical problem. These are among the specific accomplishments by which a creative engineer is most likely to be identified: Improved processes; Patents applied for; Research reports; New analytical methods; New ideas; and New products.  

A creative engineer seems to conform to the assumptions that Douglas MacGregor points out through Theory Y. It also seems that the motivations of these engineers work at a high level in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, such as self-esteem and self-realization. Frederick Herzberg would certainly agree that the creative engineer can gain his good feelings solely from motivation, but certainly not from hygiene factors. It is especially interesting to note that the creative engineer in his career and growth aspirations may have little interest in becoming a manager, assuming the mantle of responsibility for the performance of others. This is because he wants to be judged strictly based on his own performance as an individual. This does not reflect any ambition, technical ability, or value for the organization. Another aspect of managing creativity is worth discussing here. Should the creative engineering manager be an engineer or humanist, specializing in interpersonal relationships, communications, and job satisfaction needs? The answer to this question is “yes.” The function of the engineering manager or vice president of engineering is also to demonstrate to the creative engineers how effectively he will perform his functions. To do this, he must have a great understanding of the engineering process as well as of the application of his engineering experiences from previous projects. In addition, the engineering manager creates the atmosphere and the relationship that motivates and stimulates the creative process of the person who is responsible for a specific target. Yet, the creative engineer will not be busy just because his manager does not have enough hours and needs to increase the number of working hours available by adding in the professional staff. No, the creative engineer has joined a team because of his potential for unique contributions. It is the manager’s role to provide the guidelines and stimuli that produce the desired responses in the form of excellent productivity, possibly a kind of productivity for which the manager may not be capable, even if the day is long enough. 

The creative process results in the fulfillment of the task that is the goal of the team. This performance is coordinated with other engineering peers, superiors, and the company’s master objectives. Engineers, especially those who are characterized as creative, must have positive respect for the professional skills and knowledge of their managers in the technological fields in which they operate. The creative engineer often needs someone with whom he can “think out loud” and “bounce ideas off of” and create in his way a regenerative loop of transmitting and receiving thoughts that sprout. To participate as a valid stimulus “transmitter”, the manager must develop a significant set of credentials that testify to his skills, knowledge, and reputation in the field of scientific endeavor with which he works as a creative engineer. The ideal combination of creative engineering combined with the mind and frame of an effective manager is indeed the rarest resource. So here we are dealing with the person who has chosen to become or has been appointed manager of creative engineers.    

In addition, creative engineers are required to have increased imagination to form mental images or concepts of what is not present to the senses. It has to do with ingenuity, which is a vital skill when you are going to succeed in an engineering job. As society continues to grow rapidly and advance technologically, engineers face problems they have never encountered before. From the impact of fossil fuels to food and medicine shortages, engineers will be integral to providing solutions in many industries. Cultivating an engineering mindset that emphasizes the importance of creative imagination should be a top priority for future engineers.


As an engineer, what can you do to improve your mind and test your creative thinking skills? Here are some quick exercises to keep your creative brain active to help with your day job: (1) Sudoku puzzles – they are about problem-solving and being able to think several steps ahead. Exercise your strategic thinking with a game of sudoku; (2) Crosswords – although focused on words, crosswords require you to think outside the box and re-think riddles. Test your ability to think of alternative solutions to problems.


Georgios Ardavanis  – 02/12/2023

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