Monday, June 15, 2015

How To Channel Creativity Through Engineering

In many ways, I fit perfectly into the mold of a stereotypical engineer. I like math, I can rock a pair of nerdy looking glasses, I like to run experiments outside of work, I have a stack of work related magazines on my coffee table, and I make awkward jokes that only my scientific brethren understand.

But stereotypes are by definition oversimplified (and therefore often inaccurate) ideas of who a person is, there are also many ways in which I do not fit into the social construct of the idea of an engineer. First off, I'm a woman. But we've already discussed that in detail in this blog. Secondly, I consider myself a creative person, and I consider engineering a creative pursuit.

Most other people (engineers and non-engineers alike) seem to define engineering as a particularly un-creative field. A field where you sit in a dark cubicle and follow rules and calculate the same thing over and over. But if that were true, we'd have replaced engineers with robots or computer programs long ago.

Contrary to popular belief, we aren't machines that churn out data

In my opinion, a good engineer is much like an artist. Instead of mixing pigments for paint, we blend ideas and numbers and apply them to create something new. And no matter how small, that something new gets used, and in many ways it makes people feel. I feel happy when you get a new phone, I feel disgusted when the water filtration system doesn't work, I feel safe when I use the lock on my door, and I feel a little scared when I see something dangerous. And just like that painting I so carefully selected for my living room, over time I take these things become part of my expected environment and I begin to take for granted how awesomely they are.

Sometimes, it's hard even for engineers to see ourselves as creative people. We get lost in the documentation and the details, like a cellist who spends so long practicing a difficult measure that she forgets she is making music. But if you come up for air, you have a chance of seeing the impact that your role can make in the greater piece of artwork. Your unique solutions to a problem play into the overall innovative item at the end.

Perhaps this explains why so many of the engineers I know pursue artistic outlets outside of work, from classical instruments, to heavy metal bands, to ballroom dance, to painting. And also why some famous artists like Leonardo da Vinci were also brilliant inventors.

So next time you meet an engineer, don't assume that they are just another number cruncher. The best of engineers will truly be creating the solutions of our future.



PS. What creative things have you or somebody you know done as an engineer?


  1. One of my favorite terms for this exact thing that I learned in high school was "homo faber" or "man the maker", i.e. the use of creative ingenuity to solve challenges. And, really, isn't that what engineering is all about?

  2. While working as a Civil Engineer I was co-ordinating the moving of mountains of contaminated soil for the olympic park, building highways and Tunnels under Central London and designing and producing fashion in the evenings! The skills used to solve problems have been transferred to how to make sketches a reality! Creating anything and everything is creative by definition!

    1. That's so cool, and a perfect example! I saw some of your work on your page, and it's really cool.

  3. :)
    Your blog is very nice . I'll spare time and visit this place again


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