Imagination. It’s brought us cars, medicine, electricity, and many of the other things we take for granted each day. Imagination is an important aspect of the mindset of those that choose to pursue jobs in engineering. Behind every innovative idea is an engineer. Why then, don’t many people relate creativity and imagination to the profession of engineering and the mindset of an engineer?

When we think of the engineering mindset, we often think of a rational, methodical process. Both are important traits, but what about creativity? Engineering is often problem solving, it requires an ability to think outside the box and visualise a number of alternative solutions and scenarios. What attracts many people to a career in engineering in the first place is a fascination for how things work.

With a growing population coupled with climate concerns, it’s more important than ever that engineers are being provided with the resources and opportunities that produce creative and innovative solutions to the problems we face. Perhaps this is why we’re seeing an increase in the number of educational institutions that offer design alongside engineering.

Why is imagination important for the engineering mindset?

Imagination is the ability to form mental images or concepts of what is not present to the senses. It relates to certain resourcefulness, which is a vital skill when it comes to succeeding at an engineering job. As society continues its rapid growth and technological advancement, engineers are facing problems they have never seen before. From the impact of fossil fuels to food and medical shortages, engineers are going to be integral to providing solutions across numerous industries. Nurturing an engineering mindset which emphasises the importance of a creative imagination should be a key priority for engineers of the future.

Creativity in Engineering

In the history of humankind, there have been plenty of innovative ideas in science and technology that have changed the way we do things. Here are just a few examples of creativity in modern engineering:

  • Bullet trains: Japan’s high-speed bullet train, or Shinkansen, is earthquake proof and the maximum operating speed is 200 miles per hour, an idea that once would have been implausible. To exist, it required someone to imagine a new possibility not yet invented and even drew inspiration on the composition of a kingfisher bird to reduce the noise it created.
  • Bagless vacuum cleaners. It may seem normal now, but it was only in 1991 that James Dyson began to investigate the standard vacuum cleaner and look for a new solution that would prevent the bags getting clogged and causing the machine to lose suction. Dyson created a brand new solution that hadn’t yet been thought of.

Every new product has a team of engineers behind it, creating, researching and designing services that impact the physical world. It’s a wonder that some people have a problem perceiving engineering as being a creative industry.

Exercises to stretch your creativity

As an engineer, what can you do to improve your mind and test your creative thinking skills? Here’s some quick exercises to keep your creative brain active to aid in your day’s work.

  • Zachtronics games - you may be familiar with Minecraft, the building game aimed children. Minecraft was developed by Zach Barth, lead designer of Zachtronic games who produces engineering puzzle games. Barth studied computer systems engineering and has turned his engineering knowledge to building these challenging, engineering-focused games.
  • Sudoku puzzles - they are about problem-solving and being able to think a number of steps ahead. Exercise your strategic thinking with a game of number sudoku.
  • Crosswords - although focused on words, crosswords require you to think outside the box and re-think riddles. Test your ability to think of alternative solutions to problems.

Building the engineering mindset

The ability to identify problems and recognise multiple solutions, or even brand new solutions, is an essential part of an engineer’s job. By crafting these skills from the very start of your engineering career, you’re building the mindset that all engineers should strive for. Educational institutions are offering more and more engineering specific courses and qualifications, meaning that we can expect future generations of engineers to have both the creativity and imagination that will continue to address the challenges we face as a global community.

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