Of fate and the phlegmatic

The Secret Engineer

Our anonymous blogger reflects on the danger of assuming that those in other disciplines share the engineer’s approach to problem solving

Our anonymous blogger reflects on the danger of assuming that those in other  disciplines share the engineer’s approach to problem solving

I recently had a very special day planned. There were two or three things that were happening in the same locale, at slightly different and convenient times, each one having the possibility of making a great difference to my life. In fact I couldn’t believe that for once all my planetary influences seemed to be aligning and the Gods were smiling benignly upon my schemes. Of course I should have known better. The night before was spent being rather ill in a non-decorous manner and there was no way I could venture from the house the following morning. I could not possibly relay the thoughts that went through my head for fear of your blushes gentle reader, or even come close to expressing how disappointed I was. However within a couple of hours I had metaphorically brushed myself down and could face the world again – if not exactly with a spring in my step.

I wondered if my “life skills” gained as an engineer had helped me as, for someone who is naturally an impassioned sort of fellow, the turn around was fairly rapid. Specifically we are always looking to improve existing products or processes, sometimes even inventing new ones. We have a few thousand years of rather clever bods doing exactly this behind us and consequently the search for the novel tends to be for a large part both futile and frustrating.

The phlegmatic approach is the only one we can take and I think this must colour our whole outlook on life. Taking this further, I remember chatting to Mr Secret Engineer Senior (himself an engineer) a few years back when he told me of his experience during some proto-team building exercise. Three people were selected from each of his company’s departments and dispatched to a soulless hotel room. In their departmental teams they were given an exercise to create a plan for producing a hypothetical product, after which various problematic influences were introduced. All struggled except the engineers who were told by the organiser “there’s nothing I can teach you.” The only thing the engineers were surprised about was that none of the other teams saw the solutions that were blindingly obvious to them.

The approach and culture of the engineer gives us a particular slant on life and allows us to see what others miss. It is seemingly a common mistake not to point this out in situations where we are with people from other disciplines, purely because we do not even entertain the idea that they have not seen it for themselves.

This is something that we really should seek to change as it will improve the effectiveness of the companies we work for and lead to a greater appreciation of our profession. I still bitterly regret my missed opportunities but I looked at my misfortunate, saw an opportunity to turn it to my advantage, and used it as the basis for a magazine article. Every dark cloud and all that…