Robyn Townsend

Why Engineers Need Creative Skills

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Imagine a typical engineer. You are probably thinking of someone analytical, precise, good at maths? But would you consider artists, designers or people with creative skills?
Possibly not.
The stereotypes we grew up with have a large impact on how we think about engineering roles today. And while things are changing people still think about engineering in the same way that they did 10 years ago.
Is creativity important?
It's no secret that I believe creativity is one of the most important skills you can have in any job. In fact, research completed by LinkedIn shows that creativity skills are what employers needed most in 2019!
But, when I talk about creative skills I am not referring to drawing, writing or painting. Although those are great! I am referring to the ability to imagine something new and then make it.
Imagination allows us to picture something that is not present.
If you're thinking, yes but can't everyone do that?
Not exactly.
Try this visualisation test that went viral on Twitter in February. Inspired by this YouTube video.
Close your eyes, and think of an apple.
What do you see?
Where is the apple?
What colour is it?
Does it have a stem or a leaf? Or do you see nothing at all?
Use the scale below to see where you sit in terms of detail/clarity.
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When I think of an apple I see number 1. But the person that showed me this tweet is at 5.
This blows my mind.
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I want to make this clear that if you can't visualise an apple that doesn't mean you are can't be creative.
But it does a great job of illustrating the differences in the way people think. Not everyone in an industry will be at the same point on the scale.
Furthermore, in some professions, there might be more people at one point than another. Take a design agency as an example. Often people there will have stronger mental imaging skills. Whereas in a more analytical field this could be the opposite.
No matter where you sit on the scale creativity and mental imagery are skills that you can learn. And you should, as not everyone has these skills. It will give you an advantage when trying to solve new problems.

So how does this apply to engineering?

"Creativity is a fundamental element in engineering. Creativity is concerned with the generation of effective, novel solutions to problems, while Engineering and Engineering Design has a similar goal, focused on technological solutions." - David H Cropley - Multidisciplinary Contributions to the Science of Creative Thinking (pp.155-173)
Many of the stereotypes for engineering have an element of truth. Engineers do need to apply maths, science & technology in their jobs.
However, a big part of engineering is problem-solving.
Whether it is 3D printing a prototype or looking for new answers around climate change. Engineers need to look for solutions to many of the problems we face.
Engineers are often asked to design new products. Or to look at systems to see how they can be improved, this is where creative skills are an advantage.
In a fast-paced world, many organisations need to innovate to keep up and stay relevant.
In fact, the top companies in the UK make 75% of their turnover from technology that didn't exist 5 years ago.
This means that the problems that we need to solve aren't getting any easier. Using creative skills we can think about problems from different perspectives. This allows us to come up with innovative solutions to problems.
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Looking to build more creative skills?

As technology develops companies will need employees to complete repetitive tasks less often. This means that creative skills will become more important.
There has never been a better time to upskill your creativity.
Interested in the future of technology? You can read more about it in this post about Industry 4.0.
To develop your creative skills there are a number of different things you can do. You can look at courses on Skillshare or Udemy that focus on creativity and mental imaging.
There are also free courses on OpenLearn like "Making Creativity and Innovation Happen"
But for me, the number one tip would be to try and do something creative as often as you can.
It doesn't matter what you do as long as you have the freedom to experiment.
Schedule the time every day to make something, and don't worry if its "good". Just go with the flow.
Once you're done take step back.
Can you improve it?
Could you have done it differently?
More efficiently?
If so, how?
There is normally more than one answer to these questions so try and look at the problem from different perspectives. As time goes your creative thinking skills will develop, so don't be afraid to try something new!