Are Engineers Creative?

Are we creative, we engineers and programmers? I think fewer of us are than we think, but more of us need to be than are (although it’s not essential that we all are).

It’s probably useful to define creativity, because it could be argued that engineers — people who “engineer” things — are creative by definition. I don’t think so. Creativity is the ability to make something, change something, or do something that creates positive surprise in one’s peers. It goes above and beyond just “the new”. It must elicit, from those who appreciate and understand your field, an appreciative “Huh!?”

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Finding the following very interesting: “Daily Rituals: How Artists Work“, by Mason Curry.

9780307273604_custom-b0393414440fa19a6b8301f3a6a4855bf6caf661-s6-c30It’s a review of over 150 writers, painters, scientists, and so on, as to the daily habits and rituals surrounding their accomplishments. Most obvious first impression is that there seem to be as many approaches to creativity and productivity as there are individuals studied. There are highly disciplined people, and severe procrastinators; organized, and messy; laid back, and intense; healthy/ascetic, and hedonistic to the point of debaucherous, well-nigh alcoholic, drug guzzling, gluttony. However, I think that apparent variety hides a common factor; namely they all found their individual way of doing things, and to hell with convention.

It feeds a growing feeling I’ve had recently that I’m on the scent of something to do with the damage done, in recent decades, by the professionalization or at least the standardization of doing pretty much anything. Prime examples: the “9 to 5 office job”, the broadening out of University-level education, certification for pretty much anything you want to get certified for. The people Mason analyzes — the first bunch anyway, which is as far as I’ve got — all seem to more or less ignore the “standard” way of doing things. Or, rather, it may simply be there were fewer “standard ways” around when they were doing their stuff, but the effect is the same.

In my work running Verilab, I collect what I call“Proxies for Greatness”, being observable characteristics of an engineer that indicate I may be in the presence of someone very high up on the effectiveness bell curve. Perhaps “Healthy Disregard For Conventional Approaches” is another such Proxy for Greatness.