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Twitter Chat: Why Engineers Should Adopt an Artistic Mindset

dilbert_bigbeacon  Tomorrow, October 16th 2013, at 8 pm EST, we’ll join Jeff Shelton, aka ‘Sheltoneer‘, a mechanical/industrial engineer with a passion for telling the lesser-known stories of the engineering profession and in improving engineering education, on the #BigBeacon twitter chat to hear why he believes that engineers would benefit from understanding or even adopting the skills and mindset of an artist.

Come share your stories, and try on this ‘artistic’ idea for size.  Whether you’re an engineering student, an educator or a member of the engineering profession you’re welcome to the #BigBeacon – a space for reflection, conversation and community about this movement to transform engineering education.  Don’t forget the #BigBeacon hashtag.  See you tomorrow at 8 pm EST.

Post written by guest author and co-host: Jeff Shelton, co-host of The Engineering Commons podcast and President of Quarter 20 Engineering, LLC.

Why Engineers Should Adopt An Artistic Mindset

Reality #1: It’s all about emotional response. While engineers place an (appropriate) emphasis on technical correctness, their work is often evaluated on the emotional response it produces in others. Your boss/client/user may feel anxious or relieved, angry or pleased, apprehensive or relaxed—over events real, perceived, or imagined—but will not feel the slightest emotional twinge over your selection of a bolt pattern, or power supply, or sampling method. Artists know that technical virtuosity, while useful, is no guarantee of critical success.

References: Art’s Emotional Tug is Best Experienced AloneMoved to Tears: Probing the Mystery of Art’s Emotional Power.

  • Criticism focuses on technical issues, but this is always triggered by an underlying emotional sensation. If you undersize a fuse in an electrical circuit, this is a problem. However, your boss/client will not be bothered by the undersized fuse itself, but by the emotional pain of dealing with the consequences of a failed fuse. Artists know that critics attack technical issues about their work or performance, but this is always a means for expressing emotional disatisfaction.
  • A single technical mistake can undermine emotional confidence. Artists spend a good deal of time reviewing their work to make sure it produces the desired emotional response.
  • An extended period of positive performance can rehabilitate an initially negative reaction. The Eiffel Tower was once criticized as being “useless and monstrous.”
  • Few will care about the lousy hand you were dealt (budget reduction, late parts delivery, mischaracterized performance requirements), as they can only react emotionally to the finished product. If you’re an artist, you have to use the materials you have available, producing the best work of which you are capable.
  • An engineered system that has not changed in any physical manner whatsoever can go from being a “goat” to a “hero” (or visa-versa) by virtue of a single positive event that alters emotional perceptions about the system. Artists know that a single non-artistic event (political statement, well-publicized review, off-hand comment) can significantly alter their commercial viability, because it alters audience perceptions.
  • “Design thinking” is the study of adapting technical design to users’ emotional responses. Artists learn how the technical aspects of their work (brushstrokes, sentence structure, chord progression) influences the emotional repsonse of their audience.

Reality #2: Not everyone will like your work, no matter how “right” it seems to you. Artists get used to rejection, or get out of the business.

Reference: 30 Famous Authors Whose Works were Rejected (Repeatedly, and Sometimes Rudely) By Publishers25 Things Writers Should Know about Rejection.

  • By corollary, not everyone hates your work, no matter how “flawed” it might seem to you. Artists who want to support themselves must eventually release their work to the public.
  • Everyone is driven by different motivators. Each person has their own relative scale about the importance of factors such as cost, performance, appearance, robustness, safety, novelty, complexity, and uniqueness. Artists know that they can’t please all tastes.

Reality #3: Your creativity is the only asset that is impossible for others to copy, steal, automate, or outsource. Good artists don’t allow their creative “muscle” to atrophy.

References: How To Train Your Brain To See What Others Don’tSeeing What Others Don’t.

  • Everyone says they want a creative solution, but they usually just copy what everyone else is doing, as that seems the lower risk path. Creative solutions are only perceived as valuable when “non-creative” solutions fail to offer needed relief.
  • If your creative solution happens to be implemented, there will be those who claim it was “intuitively obvious” all along.

A Canadian professional engineer with a background in manufacturing and mining, Erica is passionate about creating a better future through Six Sigma, Lean/Kaizen Events, mentorship, coaching, sustainability, educational reform and talking to kids about engineering.

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