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.