Wednesday, July 17, 2013

What's happened to American Engineering?

As a boy, I dreamed of being an engineer. Like my father before me, engineering was (and still is) my passion. Engineering was a profession that people respected. As a young man, people like me were proud to announce "I've decided to become an Engineer." It was worth the many hours of hard study and giving up the social life that many of my non-engineering student friends were able to enjoy. And, at graduation, I felt the pride of knowing I made it and was about to begin an incredible journey.  But I don't think people feel that way any more. What's happened to American Engineering?

Let me tell you about George, my father and my model for engineering. Before he retired, he was a chemical engineer. He worked virtually his entire career for the same company. He was salaried. He went to work early in the morning, came home late afternoon for dinner, spent some time with our family, then retired to his room to work a little longer. He did this because he loved what he did. He didn't get extra "direct" compensation for his effort. But, he was treated as a professional, with respect, and as a valued member of the community.

Although chemical engineering wasn't my interest, I knew that I wanted to be like Dad and have the same kind of career. After all, engineers had just put a man on the moon! Engineering was a respected profession.

We face a great crisis. Have you looked around lately? We are losing our technical edge. Young American kids don't want to be engineers. Most of the advanced engineering degree students are foreign. Even those that do choose the engineering path do not seem to view the profession that same way I did when I decided to make this my career. I hear, "Engineering is just another hourly skilled trade." The country that produced the engineers that put a man on the moon is losing it ... our technical edge and professionalism. You may find a few engineers like my father, men/women who do this because they love it, who think and act in this profession with the same level of professional responsibility and respect as a medical doctor.

So, what has happened to engineering? Do you concur with my thoughts? What can we do about it? Your comments are appreciated and welcome.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Creative Satisfaction

My wife tells me that I don't know how to rest. I suppose it's true. Many of my friends tell me the same thing. My idea of simple rest is creating a new bird house design or developing a modification for our home. When I'm really on the jazz, it's designing something new that will bring the world to tears with it's creativity, ingenuity and simplicity. To be honest, I haven't created that "tear jerking" design yet. But, I'm sure it's just around the corner! Maybe this weekend!

When I was young, I worked for a lead engineer that must have shared my passion for inventing the "better than sex" design. Jerry Liebst changed every design right up till drawing release. Once manufacturing had the design, then he began re-designing! He was never satisfied that the design was complete. The design could always be better, simpler, cheaper. At the time, that man drove me crazy. But, oh how much I learned from him.

If you are a real creative, you know what I'm talking about. YOU ARE NEVER SATISFIED WITH YOUR DESIGN. In the worst of circumstance, you can't rest because there's always something better just around the bend. "Just a few more hours and my design will be the bomb!" 

So, what are we to do? How can we find satisfaction in a creative world that is never finished? Although not a perfect recipe, hopefully these five ideas help:
  1. Recognize that this is a broken world, we were created to cultivate and develop it. Understand and embrace the fact that cultivation will never be complete. But, if we make it better than we found it, we can take satisfaction in this.
  2. Most inventions are simply improvements on others ideas. If we understand that the creative juices that flow from us can be the spring board for the next great idea, we can realize that even our "best intentions" and "incomplete works" contribute to the end game. 
  3. Find joy in teaching and developing others. Liebst was a pain in the ---! His continual changes drove me crazy. But, he taught me to find the simple solution, always look for improvements, and never stop trying. I believe that he found a lot of satisfaction when I learned this lesson. And, these lessons made me into a very good designer.
  4. Remember that creativity is a team sport. We all learn from one another and we better each other. Find ways to collaborate and make each other better. 
  5. Enjoy the journey and realize that creativity is not a destination ... it is the trip of a life time.
I welcome your thoughts!