Is a creative engineer still an engineer?

What did Eurostar engineers do to make the journey to Paris more pleasurable?

They removed several thousand tonnes of dirt and shortened the journey by about 45 minutes.

What would Rory Sutherland, advertising guru, have done?

Rory would have hired male and female supermodels to parade up and down offering complimentary Chartreuse.  Customers would have been begging for the journey to be longer, and there would have been change from £3b.  (Story courtesy of Rory’s TED talk Life lessons from an ad man.)

The engineering team no doubt came up with a beautiful solution to the technical issue of a ‘too long’ train journey, but was that the problem that needed solving?

It’s no secret that the key to good design (or good anything for that matter) is asking the right questions. (You may like to read The Art of Powerful Questions to get you started on, yes, the art of powerful questions.)  My experiences leading strategy and facilitating projects with engineering groups has shown me that engineering groups jump straight into finding solutions.  It’s what we’re trained to do, for sure, but to be great problem solvers it’s rather critical that we develop the skills to solve the right problem.

How do we find the right question on an engineering project?

We get the stakeholders together and have a chat, which of course leads to the next question:

How far do we spread our definition of stakeholder?

The advent of health and safety brought the safety officer into the project.  When the stockmarket opened shareholders got a say.  A focus on sustainability has meant that it’s par for the course to consider the environmental and social implications of a project.  How much a company engages with this depends on where it sits on the scale between complying because the law says you’ll be fined if you don’t and recognising that cross-disciplinary business is simply a better way of doing business (Organisational Change for Corporate Sustainability, Dunphy, Griffiths & Benn.)

I’m interested in the latter, and how we bring together the right group of people in the right way to get the right result (for right now).

What combination of skills, knowledge and experience, with the right environment and brainstorming tools will get us to the most innovative and ethical business solutions?

Rory’s story shows just how far away from traditional engineering we might be able to go to get a new idea.  (If you’re thinking right now that his solution just wouldn’t be possible, then my question is, “Why not?”)

At the Left Brain Right Brain conference later this year, we’ll be teaming up with creative collaborator consultancy, Bracket,  to brainstorm engineering problems with a group of creatives and explore one more question:

How would engineering define (or re-define) and market itself to be truly innovative?

Published by rachaelwest

Strategic Speaker Coach | Founder | Engineer

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