Oh, can creativity be taught? Well, at the very least, it can be NOURISHED. You do this by making students think rather than only recite, and you do it by not berating their creative ideas. Even if they aren't always practical.
Great topic, Sylvie! In my experience, the amount of creativity an engineer demonstrates is directly related to just how passionate he is about his profession. Which is to say, for example, an engineer who seems not particularly creative at his job may well be very creative in his hobbies.
Another point is, I frankly see no difference between design and engineering. Engineering *is* design. And there's a whole lot more to aesthetics than just the way a painting or sculpture might look. There's elegant design involved in writing software, in circuit topology, in writing algorithms, in formatting message headers, in writing communications protocols.
If anything, it's disturbing to me that so many want to compartmentalize these aspects of what I consider to be engineering to something outside engineering. It kind of makes me wonder!!
I don't know whether creativity can really be taught or learned, but I do believe it is an essential part of engineering. The best engineers I have ever worked with were also the most creative.
NitroWare said "You are given a task to solve, must meet requirement and you must achieve a specific answer." I disagree with the "specific answer" part of that assertion.
At the highest level, the task given to an engineering team is to design a product that will make money for the company. Effective managers don't tell engineering HOW to do it, they just define what they want the end result to be, and define the resources and schedule -- the investment -- they are willing to make. There is a long decision-making tree between defining the requirements -- features, performance, size, weight, power, cost, etc. -- then narrowing down a number of potential solutions that meet all those requirements, selecting the architecture or system design that best meets those requirements, and then implementing all the different sub-systems that make up the whole.
There is opportunity and need for creativity at every step in the process.
Yes there are low-level details -- calculations and simulations mostly -- for which a specific and precise answer is required. But long before an engineer gets to that low level, he or she should have been asking "is this the best circuit topology to solve this problem?" and should have analyzed the size vs. power vs. cost vs. risk trade-offs of this circuit vs. a multitude of other circuits that might have been candidate solutions.
Rarely is there a "specific answer" to the general problem of designing a complex electronic system that must meet various constraints of cost, performance, power, etc. There are a large number of answers within that constrained space, and some are better than others.
Finally, if it were true that there isn't really much creativity in engineering, then where do all the patents come from?
I believe we have gotten ourselves confused on innovative, creative, talking crap, pipe-dreaming and sneaky, just to name a few. In USA, we have done extremely well in every single category, to the point that we believe people who talk more crap is more creative. No wonder we have so many big mouth lawyers and marketing type running around in this country.
Its much harder to be creative in Engr. than say in visual arts or advertising because at the end of the day the bridge must not collapse. In engineering only a real deep understanding of the fundamentals can empower you to take a wild & creative leap and still succeed. Example Gustav Eifel of the Eifel Tower/ Bridge fame. Or if you are a Steve Jobs lucky enough to have a humble and genius techie buddie like Woz doing all the engineering or later have 100 engineers under your command to translate all your artistic visions about user interface into workable hardware
'western higher education system' failed me.
Humanties degrees are very creative. As long as you can justify your POV you are seen as being correct.
Eg business,law etc
Computer Science/IT wasn't very creative, they give you a problem and a checklist and your expected to solve it and deliver a working solution by a deadline.
If it doesnt work, you fail. No remedy, no assistance, no 2nd try.
especially if its a low level code where you have to make all the basic functions from scratch.
Only UNTIL you have everything working then you can start to be creative with the solution otherwise it means nothing for the assesment of the solution.
These days many startups use high level APIs eg to took into twitter or facebook for their apps.
Its like in the movies where the token hacker is taken hostage and made to hack the system under gunpoint.
When I do a tear down of a brand name device often I marvel at the 'design' put into the engineering of it
The cabinet, the way the PCB ,cabinet and wires fit together, the PCB itself and so on.
2010 Sony Bravia is a good example of this mantra, synergy of design and engineering
Sometimes the way pushbuttons or connectors are placed in clever ergonomic positions, thats good design. Engineering is getting those traits to work and produced.
With cheap devices, say a no name chinese USB enclosure, there is almost zero 'design' put into it. Its as if they have a random number generator to make their devices.
The list of faults with the design AND the engineering can be dozens of points.
This got posted today, the designers of the Thinkpad X1 carbon were inspired by an older thinkpad not 'nature'
Several points of thought:
Engineers aren't less 'creative' they still have to make innovative solutions to problems on the microscopic, rather than macroscopic scale that designers work on.
Creativity is also largely a cultural and parental thing. Working in Taiwan I've been trying to understand the differences. Kids are drilled in school to recite, which is largely the opposite to western teaching methods of "here is the formula, now apply it". It makes them GREAT at fixed function subjects like language, Math and Science, but they can fall behind in other areas (as is exhibited in world wide school rankings). This is one small aspect and I'm still learning the nuances of this to try to understand more.
Other things I've found living here:
In small pockets it is now fast changing with a burgeoning design culture inspired by Japan, South Korea and the West, with traditional Chinese influences, but by the time most people get to work they are then put into a culture where a large proportion of bosses are 'do as I say', due to a culture of respect for older generation. Sounds good, but no one objects if they are wrong.
Finally, another small point to throw into the mix about the lack of women in Engineering roles:
While criticized in other countries, maybe this is because they have the choice and most prefer not to do it (for whatever reasons)? Again, Taiwanese tech companies are filled with women in all areas. They are very good at their jobs, but at least half I talk to would rather work in another industry. But with an economy so tied to the tech industry it's difficult to find another professional job in a field they enjoy.
Does that mean that you think only the design portion of building something is creative though?
I'd like to offer a different analogy:
I think design and engineering can both be creative in the way that cooking can be creative. But Design let's you mix up the ingredients and amounts, while the actual engineering is more like baking; it requires a certain precision.
That's not to say engineers aren't creative. but they do have constraints on what they can do, based on the results they need to achieve.