3 Mental Habits All Engineers Need to Have

    Posted by Mark Driscoll on Nov 22, 2016 11:15:00 AM

    3DX_Blog_Brain Graphic.jpgEngineering is a notoriously demanding field when it comes to the amount of problem solving and concentration needed. Thankfully, there are a handful of mental habits engineers can incorporate into their thought processes to do better work. These mental habits are proven thinking strategies that are used by some of the world’s smartest people to solve tough challenges and produce superior results. Adding the right ones to your problem solving skills can help you produce better outcomes at work.

    Reverse thinking, managing redundant solutions and implementing a margin of safety are a few examples of mental strategies that help engineers enhance their creative thinking, protect them from overlooking potential problems and develop innovative solutions. 

    1. Think in Reverse

    Oftentimes being faced with a complex problem can be intimidating and stressful. However, looking at it from a new perspective may lead to a faster, better solution. The process of inversion[1] does exactly this by flipping the problem on its head to gain a new perspective.

    For instance, an engineer may seek a solution to build a more energy-efficient mechanical piece to a machine, like a heater. Rather than asking, “How do I build a an energy-efficient heater?” engineers should start with, “What does an energy-efficient heater look like?” Engineers should also consider how the pieces should interact with other components of the model for more accuracy when it comes time to prototype. Follow this with what pieces and tools make a more energy-efficient heater, and work backward. 

    This process not only allows engineers to see their solution first, but also encourages them to break the problem down into smaller, manageable pieces. Thinking in reverse is also said to encourage creativity[2] and abstract thinking, which may lead to even more innovative solutions by engineers.

    2. Manage Redundancy

    While redundancy may be considered a negative quality in other fields, it has both positive and negative roles in engineering. The real habit to master is how to manage it, especially in a field that often requires prevention and back-up methods for certain projects.

    A benefit to adding layers of reliable back-up solutions to models and projects is the increased amount of safety. A common example of redundancy includes back-up generators in the event of power outages. However, they can also be more complex, like installing several components in an engine designed to do the same thing.

    Redundancy can be costly and complex to engineers. Implementing redundant components to a system or product will likely increase the overall cost. Similarly, should the redundant components undergo an error, the entire system may also fail as a result.

    Moving forward, engineers should weigh the pros and cons of adding redundant solutions to their products. By testing their back-up solutions, assessing overall design, reliability and complexity, engineers can make a better decision as to how much redundancy each project needs.

    3. Develop a Margin of Safety

    Related to the idea of redundancy is the margin of safety[3], which gives engineers a comfortable safety net between waiting to see how a problem pans out, and ultimately resolving it before it’s too late.

    For example, an engineer may design a piece of a car engine to last an average of 10 years. However, that doesn’t mean the piece will actually endure the full 10 years of activity. Engineers must determine a comfortable point to replace or service this part to keep the car functioning properly.

    To come up with a reasonable replacement time, engineers should take multiple factors into account, including the number of miles on the car, what kind of driving the car has been through and accidents. The sooner engineers decide to redesign or service the piece, the bigger margin of safety they have.

    This concept encourages engineers not to wait until the last minute, and instead leaves enough breathing room in case of error or faulty design.

    Engineers exercising mental habits see improved workflow and enhanced problem solving skills. Thinking inversely, managing redundant solutions and developing a healthy margin of error for projects are just a few helpful mental habits.

    Do you exercise any other habits that have been helpful in your field?

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    [1] Inversion - http://jamesclear.com/inversion

    [2] Encourage creative thinking - https://daringtolivefully.com/thinking-in-reverse

    [3] Margin of Safety - https://www.farnamstreetblog.com/2013/12/margin-of-safety/

    Image Credit: A Health Blog  

    Tags: Engineering, Creativity, Productivity