If I am being honest, I did not feel like I learned much about creativity while getting my undergraduate degree in civil engineering – at least not explicitly, and not much about the first part of the creative process: having ideas. But I did learn a ton about the second part: bringing ideas to be.
And this second part – the part where you take an idea you are passionate about and turn it into reality – this is where most people get stuck. Some common conclusions of what starts as a great idea are: Hitting a road bump and losing momentum. Losing sight of how the big picture connects to the finer details that need to get done. A lack of clarity as to what an appropriate process for implementation looks like.
Why does my background in engineering help me avoid these common pitfalls? A lot of it boils down to these five reasons.
- I know how to get things done – even when I’m certain I have no clue what the final solution looks like, even when I know it is going to take a lot of grunt work to get there, even when there are way more unknowns than knowns in the equation. Because in engineering classes this is almost always the case. During undergrad I became comfortable working in this type of daunting environment, and now? It’s where I excel.
- I can fluidly think about big picture things all the way down to minor details. I have a lot of grandiose ideas lately (I’ve still got that stubborn determination to change the world one day) but I also know how to scale them down into something that I can accomplish in the next 6 months, 2 weeks, even 4 hours. It’s a matter of laying out: What is our goal? What resources do we have to work with? And how can we create something that meets both constraints?
- Along those lines, I have what is likely a very common “Confession of an Engineer”: In the back of my mind, I am always thinking about efficiency. Can we be getting this done faster? Is using that expensive option really necessary or can we bootstrap something? Do we all need to work on this part or can we divide and conquer?
- I find a certain kind of adrenaline kick when challenging myself to succeed beyond my perceived ability. In engineering, if what I was doing wasn’t hard work – I was probably doing it wrong. But if I worked hard enough I could not just get by but excel. After four years, (OK in actuality this trait might have started long before college…) working hard seeped deep into the depths of my being. But the thing about the work I do now is I find it challenging AND fun. If my new forms of hard work are this much fun, I’m that much more inclined to get things done.
- I can easily shift back and forth between creative (divergent) thinking and critical (convergent) thinking. Learning how my mind works has enabled me to turn on and off certain types of thinking. You need a variety of thinking types as you move through the creative process. Also worth a mention is empathic thinking – the ability to understand how others would feel or think about something. This mental flexibility comes in handy in many other ways. Really in just about every way.
To me, this process feels natural:
Analyze a problem (critical thinking), envision a solution (creative thinking), consider how other will react to this solution (empathic thinking), and sketch out the path and how much energy it will take to get from A to B (critical thinking).
True creativity – have ideas and bringing them to be – takes more than a creative mind, it takes a refined work ethic. Something engineering certainly prepared me for.