When most people think of engineering, they immediately think of the sciences. They see the discipline as being highly technical, driven by physics and complicated equations. While that may be true, creativity is an equally important aspect that is often overlooked by many, especially those not in the field.
Engineering is not just a science; it’s also an art. Being an effective engineer means combining the science with the creative; being technical and artistic at the same time.
At their very core, engineers are designers. In fact, by definition, their field is a “branch of science and technology concerned with the design, building, and use of engines, machines, and structures.” Designing much of anything requires a degree of creativity - including technical products and devices.
Unlike other forms of art, engineers are forced to “design under constraint,” having to deal with a variety of limitations, including laws of nature, customer requirements, and/or local laws. Many would argue this requires an even higher degree of creativity than more traditional forms of art.
Engineers are problem solvers. Ultimately, the purpose of an engineer’s work is to build solutions to solve problems. Thought by many to be the most important skill required to be effective in the field, if you ask the average engineer to describe what they do, chances are “problem solving” will included in their response.
Everyday engineers are given problems to which they need to find solutions.There are no “right” answers per se. The road isn’t clear-cut and therefore requires a high degree of creativity on the part of the engineer. This doesn’t end at coming up with an idea, but continues as the solution is tested and when it needs to be modified.
Engineers are innovators. To design and solve problems effectively, successful engineers need to innovate. Sure, they will always be able to pull from learned knowledge and past experiences, but rarely, if ever, will two situations be exactly alike. They need to come up with new methods, ideas, and products regularly to fit a given situation.
Creativity is without doubt a key piece of innovation. In fact, innovation in many ways is creativity in action; creativity the ideas, innovation the implementation. Without creativity, engineers could not innovate.
The role of creativity in effective engineering cannot and should not be downplayed. It is an aspect of the field as essential as the technical. As with the technical, emphasizing and improving the creative approach will lead us to better products and devices.