Engineers are a very particular breed of people with a very particular set of skills. Theirs is an ability to see a problem and then combine the resources at hand in order to find a solution. At the same time, they have an innate fascination with the way things work – and when we see a cool toy or an impressive gadget, they see a puzzle and an example of craftsmanship.
But is the engineering mind something that is born or made? If you are not naturally someone who likes to take things apart and put them back together, can you learn those skills? Can you give yourself ‘engineer’ vision?
The first thing you need is optimism and a helping of self-belief. Engineers build things and design things that do not yet exist, and this of course means they require a certain amount of confidence to assert that those things can be done despite the obstacles laid out in front of them.
If you want to be a great engineer then, you need to stop thinking that things can’t be done and instead asking how. And if something really is impossible then you need to ask what the closest compromise you can come up with might be – this is often a shortcut to finding solutions that surprise you!
Resourcefulness is another key element in any great engineer’s arsenal. That means you need to be able to look at everything you have available to you and then recombine it in ways that you might otherwise have missed.
The problem that most people have here is something called ‘functional fixedness’. This is an inability of the regular human brain to think outside the box when it comes to using different items. If you are stuck thinking of an item in a certain way, then you might not be able to break out of that mould and see alternative uses for it.
The way to get around this problem is to break everything you have available to you into the smallest constituent parts. So instead of a box of matches you now have cardboard, small amounts of wood, paint, foil and fire. That’s much more useful than a simple box of matches if you’re surviving in the woods.
Resourcefulness gives you more tools to work with, but the ability to combine them in new and unique ways requires creativity. Creativity meanwhile needs two things: a wide amount of input to process (inspiration) and a relaxed mind that can step back and see the bigger picture.
I say relaxed, because stress and motivation cause adrenaline which gives us a kind of ‘tunnel vision’. To be more creative you need to step back and introduce some calm and to do that you can use a variety of methods from meditating, to lying down to even just looking at the colour green.
Next you need a desire to learn and the propensity to learn. There are many shortcuts to learning but most important is to take a fascination in a subject you love and to turn it inside out. You can be an engineer in everything – you can be an engineer of words (writer), a software engineer, or a could old-fashioned mechanical engineer.
Once you have chosen your field, one great way to learn faster is to spend time with other people who have just learned. They will be better positioned to remember the challenges they faced when they were just starting out. Also useful is to reverse engineer the things that inspire you. Take things apart, see how they work and then put them back together in unique ways. The best way to learn programming for instance is to start out simply by copying and pasting chunks of code (being careful not to breach copyright of course).
So there you have it, engineering is a skill that can be learned. But in the meantime consider outsourcing your general engineering solutions actually learning the ins and outs of construction is not something you can do overnight…