on March 24th, 2011

Dear Colleagues,

I constantly feel bankrupt for good engineering ideas or in solving thorny problems. A colleague gave me a few good suggestions as per below. And a great 30p. chapter on pH measurement from our analytical instrumentation manual at the end of this note.

Engineering professionals have to be rational, sensible and regimented in their thinking with the critical work they are doing. You can’t go around being irrational when working on a high voltage system or designing a process control system for handling caustic soda. Sometimes this emphasis on rationality means you lose some chance to be creative. Creativity does require suspending some degree of rationality in thinking of all possible alternatives to a problem.

So if you are ever looking for an idea or approach for some intractable problem, let me refresh you on good old brainstorming. Which really works and can be enormously helpful in solving a problem or coming up with a slew of new ideas. Admittedly, many of the ideas generated are probably useless but there are diamonds hiding there as a product of your brainstorming efforts.

What do you do in brainstorming ?
First of all, participants should be reasonably at ease with each other. But definitely “their own person with their own ideas” and not be crushed into submission by the others in the group.

• Choose a facilitator to record ideas on large poster-size sheets of paper around the room.
• Pose an initial question. The facilitator should ask the initial question and then start scribbling down the suggestions from the group asquickly as possible.
• Identify the challenge and throw this open to everyone to consider and make suggestions.
• Suspend criticism. All ideas should be encouraged and recorded without comment or criticism from the group. Collect as many ideas as possible. Yes - quantity is more important than quality at this stage.
• Be silly with your ideas. Don’t be rational but consider all possibilities.
• Don’t evaluate the ideas at this stage. Don’t assess and consider the ideas now. Leave this till later.
• Build on each other’s ideas. Feed on your engineering colleague’s idea and build it out further.
• Drag the bottom for ideas. Keep grabbing ideas and encouraging new ones to come forth. Scratch the bottom of your brain for ideas. A hard process but ultimately rewarding.
• Review all the ideas after 15 to 20 minutes. Merge the concepts, bounce the ideas off the list, combine them and then use some rational judgment to come up with some good suggestions.

And then go back to being a rational engineering professional. Hopefully with a great solution to a previously intractable engineering problem.

In posting ideas for brainstorming as Cam Barrett says: ‘It's not about the length of the posts. It's about the passion’.

Thanks Kim T. Gordon for your great article on Creative Brainstorming Techniques and Margot Cairnes for your article on “Being Silly as a way to creativity” in the Engineers Australia magazine.

Japanese Tsunami Disaster
Peter Chan, one of the 80,000 odd readers of these notes, has put together a great pledge for the victims of the Japanese natural disaster. He says: ’The recent natural disaster in Japan has really moved me and prompted me to start a pledge campaign for the victims in Japan. My idea is to ask for website owners to donate part of their pay-per-click incomes to Japanese Red Cross. This pledge is strictly honorary and I do not take money from any one. I have created a blog to track all the participating websites and a pledge logo for website owners to post on their websites’. http://japanreliefpledge.blogspot.com

I don’t know about you; but this is applicable to anyone. Whether it is the Queensland floods, or the NZ Christchurch earthquake disaster or the Japanese Tsunami – every little bit of help is fantastic.

And a real thought-provoking video on our real motivators at work (not money or se-x, I might add)
Thanks to Simon Lucchini (a Fluor Fellow) for this great video.

If you are a manager-type or aspiring to be one – this should change some of your thoughts on the subject of motivation (esp. of engineering professionals).

Yours in engineering learning


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