What do you think is your most valuable skill in the engineering workplace?
Is it something related to your education or degree? Is it your vast tribal knowledge acquired through years of dedication and hard work down in the company trenches? Is it your total mastery of five different CAD systems, plus Oracle and the complete Microsoft suite of Office products? As Napoleon Dynamite asserted, skills’ are vital to your success in life. Yet I propose that one skill stands apart from all of the others: Imagination.
Albert Einstein is credited with saying “Imagination is more important than knowledge”.
But how does imagination work? What triggers creativity? Is the capacity for inspired thinking a genetically derived talent, or is it the culmination of education and experience? I believe that it’s a little bit of both. One way to define creativity is the pairing of ideas and concepts in new or unexpected ways. One definition of Engineering is the creation of things which have never existed before. So, if we want to be better engineers, perhaps we should try to increase our creativity? If it is possible to improve our creativity, then what education, activity, or experience should we seek?
In the following paragraphs, I will share some of my ideas that may help you make connections and be more creative. (I have in fact tried each of them at least once) I would welcome comments or feedback, or alternative suggestions from any of the readers.
Watch a television program that you have never seen before. I’m not advocating watching more television, so skip an episode of CSI and select something completely new in its place. Make a thoughtful selection from the TV guide listing in advance; don’t just surf into some show that catches your attention.
Take a night class or attend a seminar. Pick something that is totally unrelated to your work or current hobbies. Don’t worry about finding applications or cross-over; just enjoy the class and the process of learning something new. Do try and learn the name and interests of everyone else in the class.
Watch a movie in a foreign language, but don’t read the subtitles. Or, just turn off the audio. The idea here is to focus on the images in the film. Look at the characters, the sets, and the landscape. Make up your own story that goes with the imagery.
If you like to read, try any of the next three things; but no cheating. Read the entire thing, cover to cover, front to back, even the ads:
Read a newspaper, from a city other than the one you live in. (If it’s from a different country, even better) Buy a paper when you travel, or ask a friend or relative to send you one from their city if you can’t find something available locally. Then tuck it away in a file cabinet and read it again one year later.
Read a magazine that you have never seen before. No, not one of those magazines, something that you wouldn’t be embarrassed by if your mother caught you reading it. Magazines are a unique window into subjects involving unique communities, interests, or activities. Pick one that you know nothing about and dive in.
Read a book that was written at least 100 years ago. The theory here is to get the perspective of someone from a century ago. Next, using your new perspective read a book written within the past year and try to imagine how the book will sound to someone 100 years in the future.
Find a new route to and from your job, cabin, or favorite hangout. Notice what’s along the new path.
Start (and finish) your own painting, drawing, or sculpture and present it to your family and friends. Talk about it. (If you fear negative feedback, you may at first claim that someone gave you the artwork, or that you found it at a yard sale while taking a new way home from work.)
Play What-if’ with someone over lunch. Make it a long lunch, and jot down the ideas as they surface. Not sure how to start? Try What if electricity was free?’, and see where you end up. Just don’t speak with your mouth full. Keep the list and read it from time to time.
Try a different hairstyle for a week. You’ll see yourself differently, and others will, too. There’s no telling where this may lead. Check with HR before doing anything involving bright neon colors.
Pick an idea you’ve had on the back-burner for as long as you can remember, and make it a reality; or at least take a step that will begin to make it a reality. Try and sneak a little work-time each day on an un-authorized pet-project that you care about, one that might be useful to your department or company. Some truly great products and discoveries have started this way.
Pick a game that you don’t know how to play, and learn it. Find a group of people that plays the game and make some new friends. Chess and Go are classics, but any game that’s new to you will work.
Remember, your actual mileage may vary. Stay open to new ideas and keep mixing different things together. I can’t promise that any of these activities will work to improve your creativity skills, but hopefully you’ll have some fun in the process. Imagine that.
By: Philip Bryans