Becoming a More Creative Engineer - Part 1

 Crossword Clue: What is something no two people can be?  (4 letters)


Recently, I gave a lightning talk about creativity for a software conference.

I wanted to relay ideas for incorporating creativity into the workplace with these goals

  • Use a common vocabulary between tech and business 

  • Engage my audience so they're motivated 

  • Keep it simple. Like you, I have lots of other things vying for my attention and efforts.

Many lightning talks are a few slides on a PowerPoint presentation. I don't like making PowerPoint presentations. They feel constricted and unnatural. I'd much rather write a paragraph of text, present a graph or provide a holistic graphic. Unfortunately, once I start writing, I tend to fill in every detail. Presenting a paragraph is long and boring, and the talk was supposed to be 10 minutes long.

I took some inspiration from part of the Agile Manifesto:

"We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it. Through this work we have come to value."

I wanted to incorporate some principles from Manifesto into both the subject and the presentation method:

Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.

Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.

Simplicity--the art of maximizing the amount of work not done--is essential.

How to discover a better way of presenting, while engaging people on common grounds and keeping it simple?  Well, I often take sketchnotes at talks, and my presentation is about creativity.  Taking a chance to eat my own dogfood and turn this one on its head, I decided to talk around images of my sketchnotes.  The following are the sketchnotes and relevant comments about the notes.


Why do you need to be more creative? There are several reasons. First, many things in engineering can be automated. But automation is not usually on the creative side, it leans more toward checking the analytical side. Eventually, the machines will beat you at automation. Being more creative helps you beat the machines in what counts: your ability to present the human side of engineering.

And second, creativity is necessary to improve the workplace in these ways.

  • Heightened engagement

  • Creative problem solving

  • Adding value to the business

  • Making work fun 


What do I mean by creative? When we think of creative people, we think artists, writers, poets, directors, actors, musicians.

I don't mean 

  • painting pictures

  • telling stories

  • directing imaginary friends

  • arranging collages

  • banging things together to make music

I do mean

  • painting pictures

  • telling stories

  • having (imaginary) friends

  • making collages 

  • banging things together


Everyone can be creative. You can work at creativity. Here’s Elvis Costello on his own creative inspirations:

“I don’t really think in terms of definition like a name tag, but if you actually asked me the difference, I say I was a worker of a kind. I work at what I do. And then there might be moments of inspiration that visit you unexpectedly.”

Sometimes, the problem does not lie in coming up with ideas, but stopping too early when you only have a few solutions. Only when all the possible solutions are exhausted can we find the best answers. Part 2 of the article covers how to use creative thinking to generate more ideas.

Crossword clue answer: TRIO

Are you inspired to be more creative yet? Read Part 2.

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