The Engineering Mindset

Over the past several years, I have had a significant number of people take notice of my mindset. I pretty much took these comments in stride until a friend of mine who teaches entrepreneurship and business echoed these assertions, saying, "people don't think like you do."

That conversation took place almost two and a half years ago and I didn't quite know what to make of it at the time. But I've always been glad that she spoke up. And I'm relieved that I'm beginning to understand what she and others may have meant.

With so much focus on movement and martial arts, few people realized that I had a degree in Mechanical Engineering. Even though I made extensive use of this skill set in developing web-based applications, my engineering background remained pretty much in the background — or so I thought.

Engineering is an odd discipline, even though it is essentially a problem-solving skill. My brother was the first to note one oddity. Most disciplines tell you what problem to solve, however, engineering is different:

Engineering requires one to first define the problem and then solve it.

I thought that this was a very astute observation, and still do, for he was quite correct in his observation.

The first task of an engineer is to define the problem.

Interestingly enough, most engineering problems are so complex that no single person can define them — let alone solve them. This means that an engineer must be in constant communication with others to understand the full scope of the problem at hand.

Communication continues to be important even after a problem has been defined, for now it is time to bring the idea to life. "So what?" you might find yourself thinking, communication is essential to many disciplines.

Indeed it is. The process is so similar as to be almost identical to any other endeavor involving communication. Even though the process may look the same from the outside, there is one key difference.

The engineer is rarely focused on proving
that they are "right" and others are "wrong".

Instead, the engineer is focused on finding a workable solution to the problem at han and completely redefining it if necessary. The focus is on developing a solution that is at the very least workable and ideally efficient and effective.

The idea of finding the "right" solution never enters the engineer's mind.

Engineering teaches one to view the world from multiple perspectives and that there are many possible solutions, several of which are likely to be equally effective in the context of the project or problem at hand.

Aside from the ethical ramifications of adopting or completing a project, the question of "right" or "wrong" will rarely arise. I was taught to think in terms of "effective" or "ineffective" — always within the context of the problem and its constraints.