When was the last time you were ‘creative’? You may have to think all the way back to finger painting in pre-school or perhaps it was a more recent flourish of inspiration to make that cubby house your kid has been nagging you about.
Many engineers and asset management professionals think they’re not creative because they’ve be labelled as ‘practical’, ‘left-brained’, or ‘good with their hands’. They operate best in an environment where they know how things work.
But consider this…
The word ‘engineer’ comes from the Latin words ‘ingeniare’ and ‘ingenium’. Simply put, an engineer is someone who uses his or her ingenuity to change the world. Engineers have an inherent curiosity to understand the world and they endeavour to solve some of the world’s toughest problems. How much more creative can you get than that?
This hidden creativity will serve the engineering and asset management community well as the industry rapidly transforms itself. Maintenance and Reliability professionals have moved beyond their operational role and are fast transforming into a core, focused, and disciplined strategic business function.
This means that you require a very different toolkit to survive and thrive.
It’s a toolkit where skills like flexibility, fast thinking, finding alternatives, being okay with not knowing everything and daring to experiment are crucial. Most people feel overwhelmed by this continuous wave of change and try to resist it by sticking to their fixed thinking patterns. But this is only going to go one way. You guessed it, the same results.
So here are 4 ways you can break out of fixed thinking patterns and start to build your survival toolkit to thrive in the new (more creative) world of work.
1. Be a Strategic Leader
Teams need to be led in a different way – your employees need to be stimulated to think differently and share their insights and ideas to move forward quickly. This is something that’s already far out of the comfort zone of the more operational leaders who traditionally gave instructions and people just did what he/she said.
Instead of being an operational manager, you have to think like a strategic leader who engages and empowers people to enlarge the collective potential.
2. Focus on the Bigger Picture
Most engineers can get lost in solving a very specific problem. But in the ‘new world’, we need to keep track of the bigger picture because while you’re spending a lot of time and money to solve a specific challenge, a new technology or competitor might have made this problem irrelevant.
It’s important not to get lost in the day-to day flow. Dare to take some time to look at the bigger picture and ask yourself the following questions:
- What’s happening in my industry?
- What’s happening in related industries (a lot of the time disruptive changes are already taking place in related industries)?
- Who are the new players?
3. A + B Doesn’t Always Have to be C
Thinking in a logical way is absolutely one of the most important elements to run a business and survive in life. I would recommend to trust your logical brain in 90% of the time. But at the same time, lateral thinking (or creative thinking) is gaining importance.
The VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous) world requires different solutions for certain problems. It’s not enough anymore to have one guideline, one system, one rule to solve problems. It’s better to have the skills to think in a flexible way and generate alternatives when the logical way is not working anymore.
4. Fail Fast, Forward and Often
One element that’s inherently connected to innovation is the fact that you don’t know if it will work or not. Otherwise it wouldn’t be innovation – it would just be repeating your old way of thinking.
If you want to try something new, you have to take the risk that your new solution won’t work. (don’t worry, sometimes it will work!) Go for small experiments – this could be a new technology or new way of working with your people. Instead of putting a lot of effort in creating the perfect plan, try it on a very small scale. If you fail, then it isn’t a big issue and you can learn quickly and adapt your plans.
Now, time to put your creativity into action…
I have a creativity method that most engineers and asset management professionals really love called ‘Breaking Assumptions’. It’s a great method to generate new, breakthrough ideas and I’m excited to demonstrate this during my session at Mainstream Conference. In the meantime, here’s a run down…
We make assumptions all day about almost everything. An assumption is something that is accepted as true or as certain to happen, without proof. Most of the time it’s based on previous experiences where a certain outcome has happened and we assume that the same result will happen forever.
But remember the world is changing so we have to make sure we don’t make too many assumptions.
The good news is you can use assumptions in a great way to come up with new ideas. The method works as follows:
- Make a list of assumptions (write all the elements down that you expect from a product/service/process)
- Formulate a challenge where you state that that assumption is not true (or make it extreme to the negative side)
- Generate new ideas based on the new criteria
So if you had to develop a new chair, how can you use the ‘Breaking Assumptions’ method?
- Create a list of assumptions around a chair:
- It has 4 legs
- It has a flat surface
- It stands on the floor
- It has a surface to sit on and a back that is fixed
- Break an assumption or make the assumption even more extreme:
- Could we develop a chair with more legs? Can we develop a chair with only 1 leg? Or no legs?
- Can we create a chair that’s not supported by the floor?
- Can we make a chair where we can adjust the surface?
- What will happen if we develop a chair that doesn’t have a flat surface?
- List your new ideas:
- A chair that can hang on the wall or at the ceiling with a hook
- A chair with 20 adjustable legs to sit on a very rocky area
- A chair where we can adjust the height of the sitting surface depending on the age of a child
- A chair that floats in the air using an electromagnetic field
The possibilities are endless.
It’s all about tapping into the inherent creativity that is in us all. (Yes, even those left-brained and practical types).
I’m looking forward to working with this great group of people at Mainstream Conference and hope that you’ve already got some inspiration from this article.
Let’s change the world.
About the Author
Cyriel Kortleven has been working in the domain of creativity and innovation for more than 15 years. He stimulates people to break their fixed thinking patterns and inspires with creative skills and examples on how to gain more with less. Through his playful and enthusiastic attitude to life, he creates an open and informal atmosphere for creativity and innovation.