Design is an inherently creative process, but do engineers have what it takes when it comes to coloring outside the lines?
That was the question at the Design Automation Conference (DAC) on Monday (June 4), as audience and panel alike grappled with issues of creativity-on-demand, risk taking and just what is required to become an idea machine.
Sponsored by the “Women in Electronic Design” consortium, the panel, for better or worse, displayed a bit of a clichéd gender bias, with an audience made up predominantly of men –as is the case in most tech trade shows. But he questions seemed no less relevant.
“You have to really be your own cheerleader,” said Sherry Hess of AWR Corp., adding that creativity isn't about solving just one problem, but a plethora of issues along the way.
While “thinking outside the box” was the phrase of the hour, Hess and her co-panelists were careful not to get too crazy on the creativity front.
“I’m reading a book called Disciplined Dreaming,” said Hess though she admitted she hadn’t made it past chapter three.
Moving along, there was some discussion on whether people become less creative as they get older. Most, including veteran panelist Dee McCrorey of Risktaking for Success said it was simply about keeping the “curiosity juices” flowing, whether you’re six or sixty.
Indeed, most panelists agreed that the greater the amalgamation of genders, ages and ethnicities in the workplace, the more creativity blossoms, with an influx of different thought processes.
One topic that divided both the audience and the panel, however, was the question of whether creativity could actually be taught, or even learned.
Some felt categorically that it couldn’t. Some felt the school system beat any creativity out of children before they even reached middle school. And some felt that trying to teach creativity wasn’t an especially creative notion to begin with.
There were some murmurs amongst the audience that engineers were often socialized into believing they were inherently not creative, due to having a more scientific bent. These murmurs were just as quickly shot down by others who argued that some of the world’s most difficult problems had been solved through the creative application of math and science.
In short, the consensus was that there would never be a consensus on the stereotypical characterization of engineering creativity.
What there was agreement on, however, was that it tends to be the more creative people who get ahead in their careers, while those with less imagination tend to tread water in the same position for a long time. So, we throw the question out to you, dear readers: how do you define creativity in engineering? Are engineers inherently less creative? And can creativity be taught? Let us know what you think.
Can Creativity be taught?.
Yes. Creativity can be taught.
The student can be creative. But...it needs creativity from the other one. The one who taught. Only a creative master can bring a creative student.
Can Creativity be taught?.
No. Creativity cannot be taught.
Even a creative master can only ignite the latent creativity that is already there within the student.
On the other hand, sometimes taking a certain amount of risk is necessary for success, no matter how old you are.
If you never push the envelope -- whether that means higher performance, lower cost, lower power or whatever -- then it's not likely that your designs are delighting your customers or worrying your competitors.
Yes, there is career risk when you take technical risks and don't succeed. But there is also career risk when you are overly cautious and your designs fail in the marketplace simply because they're nothing special.
As far as creativity vs. age, I think a lot of that has to do with the ability and willingness to take risks. As a young person without a career history to protect and few obligations, it's easy to go out on a limb or push the envelope.
Risk taking becomes much more difficult once you have mortgages, families, kids in college and a perceived greater difficult in finding a replacement job should your risk go wrong.
Society seems to generalize that if you're good at math, you're smart but not very creative and if you're good with colors, you're creative but not very smart.
Intelligence comes in many forms as does creativity. Engineering is a very creative field. The best engineers are called the best because of both their technical competence and their creativity in problem solving. I do think that creativity can be encouraged and nurtured. It can also be repressed, just like intelligence can be repressed.
It's easier to teach skills than creativity and intelligence, but both can be brought through teaching out so a student can better utilize what they have.
I agree DesDizzy. We have to bring disparate disciplines back together. Specialisation has served us well for over a century now but we are seeing many disciplines converging again, which needs a corresponding change to our academic structures. Unfortunately, the loss of financial/executive autonomy coupled with increased financial pressures due marketisation of the sector is preventing most academic institutions from pursuing this route.
As a non engineer (Risk Management consultant), with some educational experience, I would like to add a couple of thoughts. Firstly, I think in order to push the envelope, you have to know the envelope. This creativity doesn't necessarily originate from either an engineering perspective or a design perspective, but can come from either. One of the things that people seem to miss about Steve Jobs, is that he was a polymath. He was not a master in engineering or software or design, but he had an incisive foot in each camp, which made him a demanding task master. I feel that we are to hung up on producing "silo's" and demarcation lines rather than the polymath who can interact/innovate and act as a catalyst.
I also believe that these silly international league tables measure things that are easy to measure. It is easy to measure sciences. These subjects are amenable to rote learning. Rote learning does not facilitate problem solving ability. That is where the deficiencies of the Asian educational methods often lie and the advantages of Western methods (not withstanding it's deficiencies).
Creativity should be encouraged and nurtured, not taught per se. I find our Engineering education system terribly rigid and quite bland to be honest, bar few exceptions here and there. Engineers need to work more closely with scientists and artists in developing curricula that encourabe and nurture creativity and critical thinking.
Creativity comes naturally.I had seen this coming out from school children to the retired elderly. This is from various areas and not necessarily from the engineers. Creativity is common to all. Many times i get the engineering ideas from others and i use to wonder how these get triggered from the brains.
Join our online Radio Show on Friday 11th July starting at 2:00pm Eastern, when EETimes editor of all things fun and interesting, Max Maxfield, and embedded systems expert, Jack Ganssle, will debate as to just what is, and is not, and embedded system.