Techniques for Engineers to be more Creative

8 min read

Summary: As an engineer you find solutions to problems. It can happen that you’re stuck with a project and that you’re not advancing. This article will help you and your team to be more creative in finding new ideas and inspiration to move on and to be successful.

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An essential aspect of creativity is not being afraid to fail. —Dr. Edwin Land

In my previous article I wrote about essential soft skills for engineers. Soft skills that can help an engineer work more effectively, stronger and more confidently.

Some of you have indicated that you want to have more insights of these skills and want to receive additional tips and techniques to develop these skills.

One of the essential skills of the engineer is creativity. As an engineer you constantly have to solve problems or come up with new ideas. It may happen that you cannot find inspiration. The creative essence is always present in each of us. The art is tap into this creative essence and to be aware of your own creative ability to take on a challenge.

Creativity OFF -> creativity ON

Yesterday, I was in a painful situation in the train to Groningen. I will save you the juicy details but it was too easy to get angry with someone else who did not do his or her job well. The first thing I did was laugh! That discharged the situation and then I wondered what I could learn from this and how others would solve it. Ideas came to me. Some did not work and others did. The point is that you become aware of your creativity and that you can always use it. Creativity does not come when you’re standing still (in fear) and grumble. You have to switch the handle to creativity mode and just start looking for solutions. It can help by saying to yourself:

“I am creative. There’s a solution to every challenge”.

Develop your creative muscle

Maybe you want to be creative but there are no ideas. That is possible. In addition to becoming aware of your own creativity, you can develop creativity like a muscle. An exercise is that you write down 10 ideas every day. This can be in different areas:

  • Ideas to better serve my customers;
  • How to tackle a project differently;
  • New ways to work with more joy.

But also in the personal field:

  • Ideas to develop myself / learn something new;
  • Holiday destinations / things to do with the family;
  • Things I always wanted to do.

The intention is that you take time for this exercise. There must be no distraction. No telephone, no internet, no mail or people around you that can disturb you. Drink a glass of water and start writing. You cannot stop until you have written down 10 ideas. You will see that the first 4 ideas are easily written down. Then it takes more effort to use this creative muscle for new ideas. I encourage you to do this in the upcoming days. You will see that it becomes easier and that your creative muscle becomes stronger. In a very short time I came up with a lot of subjects for my articles.

Write it down!

If you do this exercise, you will discover that you come up with new ideas more often. Write them down! I use Evernote for that, but a notebook is also good.

Take distance

By consciously taking distance from a challenge, you can more easily come to a solution. Imagine that it is the challenge of someone else. It is often easier to find solutions for someone other than yourself.

ABC

But what if you are in an struggle with your team and you want to come up with creative solutions?

Some people can easily brainstorm like in the “free-thinking” exercises above. Others need some more framework / guidelines.

Then the ABC technique can be of help. Perhaps you know this already from presentations at wedding parties. The ABC technique can also help you find creative solutions to problems. It comes from the “Groot Werkvormen book” by Sasja Dirkse and Angela Talen.

On a flipchart you make 2 columns and you write the letters A to Z below each other. After you have formulated your problem / challenge, you invite everyone to come up with ideas or solutions that begin with a letter from the alphabet. Letters may be skipped and multiple ideas may be added which start with the same letter. The aim is to come up with as many creative ideas as possible that might also be new.

Be aware that every idea is a good idea. Encourage each other to come up with bold and new ideas. Creativity stops when you criticize each other.

Tip! If you have difficulty with someone else’s idea or solution, ask the following questions: “How did you come up with this idea?” Or “What do you hope to achieve with this solution?”. Give the other person time to answer and listen. Chances are that you understand it better and that it inspires you to think differently. More importantly, you also give the other person the opportunity to become more confident with expressing his or her new ideas.

When you have finished with all the letters, you discuss the different ideas and then make a priority list of ideas that can be further elaborated (and by whom).

Grab a book!

Often you can find a lot of inspiration and ideas in books that are easily available. The following technique can help you find a solution to a challenge in a very different way. Choose a random number between 0 and, for example, 300. Take a dictionary or any other reference book in your field. Open the book on the page you had in mind and choose a word, phrase or formula. Think of as many ideas as possible for your problem with that word in it. This will certainly help you find solutions to your problem in a creative and new way.

Go for a walk

Are you stuck? Don’t you know what a next step is? I often come up with good ideas while walking or exercising. You can take a walk by yourself or with someone else. Of course, the fresh air helps but the fact that you are physically moving and going somewhere helps you to move mentally and come up with new ideas. Take a good look around. Let nature, things you see happening and also billboards inspire you.

Start over

There is nothing wrong to start over again. Throw away everything that you have produced so far and start at zero. The really brave people among us remove everything permanently from their computer (including the trash bin). When you start again, you can ask yourself what you really want, what the purpose of the project is, how you want to contribute to it and what kind of help you need. You really do not have to do it alone. The more creative people there are, the more ideas!

Take action now!

Are you an engineer with good technical skills? Do you want to be more successful by improving your soft skills like creativity? I can help you and your team with coaching & training. Contact me today!

 

What are, according to you, are good techniques to be more creative? Let me know in the comment box below. I, and other readers of this article look forward to read from you!

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