Personality Elements that Cause Engineering Excellence (from my book Engineering Excellence DNA in Applied Systems) – Georgios Ardavanis Ph.D

Delivering The Highest Quality Fabrics

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

Introverted engineers 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. They perceive and therefore seem relatively intuitive when focusing mainly on the patterns and interactions. Thinking engineers usually base their decisions and conclusions on logic, with precision and objective truth in the primary objectives.

Engineering excellence requires people with a strong sense of responsibility, tremendous loyalty, and faith in their organizations and professional relationships. They work hard to fulfill their commitments as promised and on time. They will try to accomplish something they deem necessary but resist doing anything that does not make sense to them. Further, engineers striving for excellence generally prefer to work independently and be accountable for the results. However, they feel comfortable working as team members when necessary to do the job properly, when the roles are clearly defined, and when everyone is fulfilling their responsibilities. 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 challenging approach. Their focus is on the project and not on the individuals. Thus, they tend to be rational, analytical, detached, and sensible. 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 it will bring better results.

Engineers who seek excellence are also friendly when comfortable in their roles. 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 senses in the needs of third parties different from their own. However, once they are convinced that something matters to a person they care about, that need becomes a fact. In this case, they will need to go to great lengths to meet the demand, even thinking it does not make sense. However, there are cases where engineers seeking technological excellence are calm, reserved, severe, consistent, and neatly tangible in their traditions. Engineering excellence at the level of Elon Musk is applied through “Creating a Feedback Loop.” In this approach, 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 greatly affects employee engagement. Research shows that feedback initiatives, such as face-to-face meetings, formal recognition programs, and annual employee surveys, are more common in highly engaged companies. Many studies have found that employee recognition increases retention and productivity. Organizations with a strong feedback culture let their engineers’ constructive voices lead the way in product and company improvements. Independently if 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 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 they can develop their skills 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. Moreover, they do not just say that they value these things; on the contrary, they show it and incorporate it into their business. According to Kristin Ryba, here are some ways to cultivate a growth mindset in our organization: (a) Make it part of your hiring process. For example, is the candidate a lifelong learner, independently seeking development? How do they  talk about failure, and how do they react? (b) Recognize growing and getting better. Outputs are not the only thing worthy of recognition. Regularly recognize employees when investing in their growth. (c) Drive with vulnerability. Strong leaders admit weaknesses and are willing to undertake any responsibility and learn from feedback. Implement transparent communication about where the organization and leadership can improve. (2) Provide feedback training to those who need it. Like any employee who needs upgrading, their skills must be developed and practiced. Share how-to(s) on giving and receiving employee feedback. Provide opportunities for employees to observe excellent and harmful feedback interactions. Educate our 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 them. (3) Adjust the tone from the top. When fellow engineers see that their leaders apply strong feedback principles, they are more likely to align and do the same. Leading engineers must 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. Developing a feedback culture at work is based on an important factor: employees are willing to give honest feedback. Employees must feel safe and aware that providing feedback will not negatively impact them. It starts with building trust and is enhanced by how feedback is received. Different employees will have different comfort levels 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 feedback and consistently convey that message to managers and employees. Set organizational expectations around our 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 that integrates into everyday operations; therefore, we get better at it. However, we must never forget that culture comprises common traditions, customs, and languages. Gather opportunities to create these shared experiences of providing and receiving feedback. (7) Use different feedback channels. A feedback culture does not have just one way to give or receive feedback. Furthermore, people prefer to receive feedback in many ways. In addition, different situations require different feedback channels. Providing various feedback channels allows engineers to comment more comfortably 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. Nevertheless, suppose we focus only on the good things. In that case, we run the risk of ignoring the problems and putting stagnation in the development of our employees. On the other hand, if we focus only on corrective feedback, we risk 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. Let them know when we decide or change based on someone’s feedback. Do not focus on communicating the decision or change; focus on why. “Why did we do this? Because of our feedback.” Feedback is a gift. If we do not use it and appreciate the gift, we might not get another one. Having a feedback culture means that we respond and act on feedback. Employees need to see that giving feedback is worth their time. Please do not underestimate the value of following up on what we 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. Alternatively, conduct two-way feedback conversations, request 360-degree feedback, give positive feedback via recognition, and collect feedback via surveys. It takes the administrative work out of feedback, allowing everyone to focus on growth.

Engineers do not have to be experts only in their field alone. It is imperative to know how the other parts of the building products work. For example, Elon Musk expects his engineers, each one of them, to be chief engineers. They need at least a basic understanding of the SpaceX rocket or Tesla car concept. Precisely because peer engineers have in-depth expertise in the specialized field of the rocket or car, they will not be able to feel the progress 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 concept 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 used by Elon Musk and Charlie Munger is “Reasoning from First Principles.” The idea is to break complicated problems into essential elements and reassemble them from the ground up. It is one of the best ways to learn to think for ourselves, unlock our 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 flawed logic and inadequate proportions to see opportunities missed by others. Thus, the most challenging thing is figuring out what question to ask; the best answers become available when we have the questions. 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 arise 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 is one of the best mental models to improve our thinking. The conditions allow us to see where reasoning can lead us by analogy. Herein, we will explore the Socratic Question approach. One can use Socratic questioning to establish first principles through rigorous analysis. It is a disciplined process of questioning used to establish truths, reveal underlying assumptions, and separate knowledge from ignorance. The primary distinction between Socratic questioning and ordinary debate is that the former systematically seeks to formulate the first principles. Socratic questioning 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 we know they are 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 us from relying on our gut and limits strong emotional responses. This process helps us 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 feels. 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 often say, “We will do this because it has always been done this way.” Alternatively, they will not do it because, “Well, no one has ever done it, so it should not be good.”

Nevertheless, that is just a ridiculous way of thinking. It would be best if we created the rationale from the beginning – “from the first principles” is the phrase used in physics. We look at the basics and build our reasoning from it, and then we see if we 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 starts with what is true – not with his intuition. We do not know as much as we think, 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 begins with the first principles of the problem. For example, he examines the problem’s physics, how long it will take, how much it will cost, and how much cheaper We can make it. We need to judge what is possible and exciting at this level of engineering and physics. Elon Musk is unusual because he knows business, organization, leadership, and governmental issues.

Rockets are absurdly expensive, a problem because Musk wants to send people to Mars. Moreover, to send people to Mars, we need cheaper rockets. So, he asked himself, “What is a rocket made of? Aerospace-grade aluminum alloys, plus some titanium, copper, and carbon fiber. Furthermore, what is the value of those materials on the commodity market? It turned out that the materials cost was around 2% of the typical price.” Why is it so expensive to get a rocket into space? Elon Musk, a notorious self-taught man with degrees in economics and physics, literally taught himself rocket science. He thought it was so expensive to transport a rocket into space because 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 did, like what other people are doing, with small iterations on a theme.

Moreover, this is mentally easier for someone to reason by analogy rather than from first principles. First-principles are a kind of physics way of looking at the world. That means we summarize things in the most fundamental truths and say, “Okay, what are we sure is true?” and then reason up. That requires a lot more mental energy.”

Elon Musk has given an example of how the Tesla car uses first principles to innovate at low prices. For example, one might say – and in fact, many people do – that battery packs are expensive and will always be so because they used to be. Well, no, that is a misconception. Because if we applied this reasoning to anything new, we could never get to this new product. For example, we cannot say that no one wants a car because horses are great. Because we are used to them and because they can eat grass, and because there is much grass everywhere, we do not need to buy a car and therefore do not need to purchase gasoline. He then gives a fascinating example about battery packs. Historically, a battery pack costs $600 per kilowatt-hour. Thus, it will not 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 components? It has cobalt, nickel, aluminum, carbon, 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? Oh, holy cow, it is $80 per kilowatt-hour. So, it would be best if we thought of clever ways to combine those materials into the shape of a battery cell. We 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 premises, policies, and procedures are sometimes stated explicitly and taught to new members as the correct way to behave and get things done. We can ignore our corporate culture, but it will not forget us, our fellow engineers, and the other companies we 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. Suppose a CEO is constantly introducing new features in the middle of sprints. In that case, it is a culture of totalitarian dictatorship. Likewise, a culture of innovation cannot flourish if workers are punished for failure. 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:

·       How we make things: coding standards, reviews, design patterns.

·       How we operate things: planning, monitoring, data integrity.

·       How we function as a team: values, team structure, transparency.

This category covers all the values and the company’s focus and purpose that traditionally have been part of a company’s culture.

Martin Buberl offers a more straightforward, higher-end model, which lists eight steps toward a culture of engineering excellence for a software engineering organization. For example, are we innovative, agile, open, transparent, different, good, friendly, or happy?

The model poses questions that a developer engineer should ask and usually receives “yes” answers before joining a company. Defining our company culture is worth clarifying because it is crucial to our success. One must clearly and explicitly define our organization’s engineering excellence culture, and we should be aware of it. Knowing our company’s engineering excellence culture also allows us to understand the culture of other companies. Look for cultural alignment between the partner companies we depend on and us. Make culture matching a vital part of evaluating and selecting our partner, whether outsourcing hardware or software, to ensure that we will attack and solve problems similarly. Cultural alignment with our engineering outsourcing partner is critical to achieving transparent communication, innovation, and agility to create excellent engineering applications.

Becoming the best means never being satisfied with what we have done. It has to do with constantly improving who we are. Of course, success will come because we know who we are and what we stand for. It is about initiating and continually creating situations that will force us to become more than we are today. Cleanse ourselves of all our imperfections. It is our journey. No matter how good our strategy is, if we are not good at what we do, this strategy will not take us far. Once we are sure of what we are doing and clear where we are going, the right system will become known. Hence, when our “why” is strong, we will figure out “how.”

The how comes from the why. Not the other way around. If we are looking for success, we are going about it wrong. We are doing it for the wrong reasons. Moreover, we will continuously be left searching for the next patch of land to find gold. If we know what we want and why we do it, do not worry about the “gold.” Our security is internal. Do not worry about the outcomes because we already know they will come. For us, it was never really about rewards. It was only and always to see how far we can go to achieve the impossible, never to stop. Remove everything external, and we will continue with the same intensity we always have. Give us everything – fame, money, whatever else – and it will not derail us.

If we want to be the best, consider the following five steps: First, work at ourselves, not on our job. “Work hard at your job, and you can make a living. Work hard on ourselves, and we can make a fortune.” – Jim Rohn. Our work reflects us. If we do not get the results we are looking for, stop looking for better strategies. Instead, look at our inner self and our inner reality. Are we currently the person who would attract the level of success we are looking for? Our external circumstances reflect our internal reality. As James Allen said, our cases reveal themselves. Where are we right now? Who are we? If we want something different, then we must improve ourselves.

Most people focus on their “job.” That is all well and good. However, focusing on ourselves will get far more value for our buck. We should devote 20% of our energy to our work. 80% of our energy should be devoted to rest and self-improvement. It fuels our work and makes it better than anyone else’s. Self-improvement is more than books, and proper rest is renewal. As others strive to improve their job, we are constantly improving ourselves, expanding our vision, skills, and abilities. It is like Stephen R. Covey’s 7th principle: Sharpen our 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, we will have developed absolute mastery. Everyone else is trying to improve their “skills.” Please do not work on our job. Work on ourselves. Our work will far outweigh what other people produce, with difficulty when we do this. Our work will be cleaner, more precise, and more potent because we will evolve more as individuals. Most people we are “competing” against are in an inner mess.

Second, we must put ourselves consistently into situations that others can only dream of. “Necessity is the mother of invention.” – English Proverb.

Our results do not reflect our 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. We have to put ourselves in positions that put a lot of pressure on us. This pressure will either push us to the top or break us. It is how we drive away our weaknesses and micro-psyche. It will not be pretty. Nevertheless, it will change us. Furthermore, eventually, we will rise to something “new,” “changed,” and definitely “better.” We must face challenges that require us to become much more than we are today. We must put our backs to the wall so we have no choice but to produce. It is how we evolve. How do we put ourselves in these situations?

We must initiate the first steps toward the accomplishment of our challenging assignments. Improve our current situation or “job” by providing real value. We must always try to pitch ideas, ask questions, and get in the process of trying and failing. We take on roles that require greater responsibility. “Leadership” is available to everyone. We need to assume a leadership role. We can do this now, no matter what situation we are in. We do this enough, and we will create opportunities by constantly pitching ourselves and our ideas. Then maximize these opportunities, and more will come. Options are like ideas. The more we use them instead of letting them simmer, the more opportunities will follow. Most people sit on their ideas for far too long, becoming stale. Likewise, most individuals sit at their options too long and stop their self-evolution and progress.

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

If we continue to imitate other people’s work, good luck. What does that say about our inner compass if we are trying to replicate other people’s work and results? What does this say about our motivations? Are we just trying to figure out what works? Are we looking for the “how”? Do we know where we are going? If we follow in someone else’s footsteps, where do we think these tracks will take us to our destination or theirs? Moreover, even if we were happy with their destination, do we think we could do better than them? It is their way. They are driven by something profound and internal. We cannot move forward if we are always a few steps behind or if we are constantly reacting instead of creating. We will always try to be someone else if we do not know who we are. Thus, we will never be the best. Our 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, someone can achieve success quickly because it is the last thing on our minds. We already know it is going to happen. The work itself is what should drive us. It almost does not matter what we do. That is why we do what matters—the “what” can and has many forms. Do not over-attach to one role; whether we are a leader or an employee, the “what” does not matter. What matters is why we do it and, subsequently, how we do it. Hence, how we do anything is how we do everything. When we love the process, we seek feedback, guidance, and coaching – even when we are at the top of our game. Surround ourselves with people who are not afraid to tell us the truth. We avoid people who suck up and only tell us what they think we want to hear. Those are not friends. They have a plan. Self-transcendence comes from collaborating with others driven by a larger and larger vision when the whole becomes fundamentally different from the sum of its parts when the work is the reward.

Go beyond anything we have ever imagined and give complete openness to the possibilities. We will never realize it if we do not constantly improve and work with better people. When we improve ourselves and our work and produce, opportunities will come. They will only help go because we are like a magnet that pulls them in. At last, please do not pretend to know why we are doing this. So many times, it happens too fast. We trade our passion for glory. Do not lose control of the dreams of the past. We must fight to keep them alive. We must have “Eye of the Tiger” according to the song of the band Survivor. It amazes us how often we see engineers getting rid of their value systems today in the hope of quick success. When we see this happening, we know these engineers will not succeed in the long run. They do not have a “why” or have forgotten it. They do not have an inner compass. As a result, they do not know where they are headed. It is a destructive path. The moment we start to compromise, we will not stop compromising. Clayton Christensen, an innovation expert, has stated: Many of us have convinced ourselves that we can break our own personal rules “just this once.” In our minds, we can justify these small choices. None of those things feel like a life-changing decision when they first happen. The marginal costs are almost always low. However, each decision can form a much bigger picture, turning us into someone we never wanted to be. It, 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 creating a robust 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 its 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 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. Transparent 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: The maximum degree of modularization and clearly distinguishing between platform and application should be aimed. (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 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: we recommend optimizing the work distribution between different regions and considering labor costs. (7) Core competencies/”make or buy”: Best practices include key competencies that come from the brand position, defining what is critical 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 more robust system perspective, and improved interfaces. (9) Transparency and performance measurement: Best practices include general, research, and development-specific key performance indicators for all project phases. (10) Resource and budget management: Best practices include optimizing the available and required resources and planning and controlling the target budget at the 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 us for future success. By establishing best practices and an innovation-oriented mindset, we create an organization that thrives in times of technological downturn.

In the history of humanity, many innovative ideas in science and technology have changed how we do things. Here are 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 have been 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. Although it may appear normal now, James Dyson began researching the standard vacuum cleaner in 1991, looking for a new solution to prevent the bags from becoming clogged and causing the machine to lose suction. Dyson created a brand-new solution that had not yet been thought of.

Every new product has a team of engineers creating, researching, and designing services that impact the physical world. Troubleshooting and identifying multiple or brand-new solutions becomes essential for an engineer’s job. Creating these skills from the beginning of our engineering career builds the mentality that all engineers should strive for. Educational institutions offer more and more engineering-specific courses and qualifications. That 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.

Engineering peers who have gained the label “creative” are highly sought after in technical development. However, how does a manager know that his engineers are creative? By what evaluation process do we contend that engineer A is a creative one while engineer B is not? A manager cannot afford to theorize and overthink 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 for 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 and patents, Research reports, New analytical methods, New ideas, and New products.  

A creative engineer appears to conform to the assumptions identified by Douglas MacGregor in Theory Y. It also seems that these engineers’ motivations are at a high level in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, such as self-esteem and self-realization. Frederick Herzberg would undoubtedly agree that the creative engineer can gain good feelings solely from motivation, not hygiene factors. It is exciting to note that the innovative engineer may have little interest in becoming a manager, assuming responsibility for the performance of others in his career and growth aspirations. He wants to be judged strictly based on his performance as an individual. It does not reflect the organization’s ambition, technical ability, or value. 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? The answer to this question is “yes.” The engineering manager or vice president of engineering also demonstrates how effectively he will perform his functions to the creative engineers. To do this, he must understand the engineering process and apply 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 responsible for a specific target.

Nonetheless, the visionary engineer will be idle because his manager does not have enough hours and must increase the number of available working hours by hiring professional staff. No, the creative engineer has joined a team because of his potential for unique contributions. The manager’s role is 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 was long enough. The above diagram illustrates an engineering stimulus flow as input from the engineering manager to the peer engineer who, motivated by two-way communications, provides continuous feedback to the engineering manager. The creative process results in fulfilling the task, which is the team’s goal. We coordinate this performance with other engineering peers, superiors, and the company’s master objectives. Engineers, especially those 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 innovative engineer often needs someone with whom he can “think out loud” and “bounce ideas off of” and create a regenerative loop of transmitting and receiving thoughts that sprout. To be a valid stimulus “transmitter,” the manager must have a significant set of credentials attesting to his skills, knowledge, and reputation in the scientific endeavor in which he works as a creative engineer. The ideal combination of innovative engineering combined with the mind and frame of an effective manager is indeed the rarest resource. So we are dealing with someone who has chosen to be or has been appointed as a manager of creative engineers. 

In addition, creative engineers must have increased imagination to form mental images or concepts of what is not present to the senses. It has to do with ingenuity, a vital skill for succeeding in an engineering job. Engineers face problems they have never encountered before as society proliferates and advances technologically. 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 emphasizing the importance of creative imagination should be a top priority for future engineers. As engineers, what can we do to improve our minds and test our creative thinking skills? Some quick exercises keep our creative brain active to help with day-to-day work: (1) Sudoku puzzles involve problem-solving and thinking several steps ahead. Exercise our strategic thinking with a sudoku game. (2) Crosswords – although they focus on words, crossword puzzles require you to think outside the box and rethink puzzles. Test our ability to think of alternatives to problems.  



Georgios Ardavanis – 08/01/2024

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