Usually when someone in the engineering field refers to something as “creatively engineered,” it is a clever way of suggesting that the item you just designed might be defying the laws of physics. In other words, you need to go back to the drawing board or nowadays the CAD screen. However, this expression got me thinking about one the most common complaints I hear from young students who are pondering entering the engineering field: “ I do not want to pursue engineering as a career because I am a creative person and I want to use that creativity in my job someday.” After some thought I think the view that engineering does not allow for creative expression is completely wrong. Engineering it by essence requires a creative process and here`s why..
Webster`s defines engineering as: the branch of science and technology that is concerned with building and use of engines, machines and, structures. Whereas creativity is defined as: the use of imagination or original ideas in the production of a work. Now let us sidestep to the process of engineering. The first step is analyzing the problem. This step often involves understanding the causality of the problem or imagining what is causing the issue. Once the problem is fully understood we move onto brainstorming or coming up with original ideas on how to solve it. Finally, we move onto the production stage or producing the work that has been designed. Through dictionary definitions and simple logic we have concluded that the process of engineering aligns perfectly with the definition of creativity.
However, engineering involves science and math and they are difficult and don’t seem very creative. This is true, I cannot counter the view that math and science are hard, believe me, I know. Nevertheless, I will say that engineering is not just science and math. Science and math are just tools that are used in the in the process. As put more eloquently by the president emeritus of MIT Dr. Woodie Flowers during the 2012 FIRST Robotics Competition opening ceremony, “knowing calculus is not rocket science, but knowing how to think using calculus is.”
I will admit that in the previous examples I slightly over simplified the engineering process to make a point. Nonetheless, the idea is the same: engineering involves understanding the problem, coming up with a solution to the problem, and finally making that solution to the problem a reality. In essence it is creative problem solving. Some of the greatest engineering accomplishments, were not a result of using great math or science, it was the result of coming up with a new and creative way to solve a problem. Designing a new type of car demands the same level of creativity as painting a picture. Because after all, engineering is an art form isn’t it?