Tuesday, October 31, 2006
The advert ends with the line, "The walls between art and engineering exist only in our minds."
There are a couple of ways to interpret the catch line and it really depends on how you view art and engineering (surprise, surprise). I would say the way that the advertising company wants you to interpret that statement is that BMW have highly engineered cars with wonderful aesthetics. My interpretation? Well, maybe less obvious and possibly more true to the artist's feelings.
Let us start by looking at the word "art". Here are two definitions from Dictionary.com,
1. the quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance.
2. skill in conducting any human activity: a master at the art of conversation.
So we have two (of many) definitions, one focussing on aesthetics (the "typical" association with art) and another focussing on skill at doing something. I am going to diverge a little to tell you a story about my wife and the dentist - yes maybe you think that is strange, but bear with me for a bit...
My wife really dislikes the dentist (is that applause I hear in the back row?) - until she met a lady dentist in Pretoria. Now the first thing that my wife normally tells a dentist when she sits down in the chair is how much she does not like them and how she does not understand why anyone would like to become a dentist. Luckily this tends to break the ice and lead to a good relationship :). So when the topic of, "Why would anyone want to become a dentist?" came up with this particular dentist she responded by saying that for her it was a form of art. She really took pride in how she did her work so that it would be both aesthetically pleasing and functional. Obviously it requires a skillful dentist to do this well.
So who of you would have said that a dentist was an artist? (that is, other than a torture artist ;) )
Maybe the question that needs to be asked is how far apart art and engineering actually are. In general it seems that people put them at opposite sides of the spectrum with art being all about creativity and engineering all logical and scientific. I think that what Joe Average does not realise is the degree of creativity that engineering requires and that is most likely due to engineers lack of ability to explain what we do (see my previous post on this).
For me the art of engineering is so much more than just creativity - it is something that goes to the core of function, aesthetics, and problem solving. I believe that we as engineers need to create solutions that actually enhance people's lives. The point where all of this comes together is the point were we as engineers can start to be artists.
It is more than function and more than beauty - true engineering art should take your breath away and change the way you see the world. That is the kind of art that I want to create.
I've just realised that I can't think of something off the top of my head that embodies those principals. I'm going to have to go scratch around and find some examples of what I think encompasses the art of engineering (I see a "Top Ten" post coming on). Do you have anything that you think stands out as an amazingly engineered product? Let me know by posting a comment!
A final thought - take the time to be an artist at what you do. This will enhance the lives of the people around you, and most importantly your own life, and the ripple effect of that is huge.
PS. If you're looking for a great dentist in Pretoria (or Tshwane, or whatever you want to call it), try Dr. Cornel Cronje (drop me a line if you want her contact details).
PPS. I've added a "Current Reading" section to the links on the right so that you can check out what I'm (hopefully) enjoying at the moment. The link will take you through to the Exclusive Books website (I'm an affiliate) where you can buy books and have them delivered for free to your nearest Exclusive Books.
Wednesday, September 06, 2006
"Up and coming seeks visionary leader to take team to new heights. Great pay and benefits, but you'll have to perform for our clients. Clients and upper management can be very demanding and you will be expected to perform under pressure. You'll be constantly evaluated on past, present and future performance (but mostly on present and future). You'll be expected to stand up to strong critics of the product and make sure that the team functions well at all times.
"Lasting changes will begin with you - starting immediately. If those changes and results are not immediately evident you'll have to answer to evaluation committees. You should be comfortable with your job being under constant threat. Client loss will be directly attributable to you."
You might see this job advertised in the following way,
"South African soccer team seeks new coach"
Soccer? Why am I talking about soccer in an engineering and business blog. Would you mind bearing with me while I look at some of the problems in our sports and the government before applying this to our businesses?
Let's start with sports - a firm favorite in South Africa. It seems like it takes only one loss (at any of our three major sports - soccer, rugby and cricket) and the first words out of everyone's mouths are, "The coach should be fired!" Let's look at this quickly.
Inevitably a new coach enters the system with their own vision of how players should be coached and how decisions should be made. They go about implementing there vision (or at least laying the foundation for it) and then slowly work towards that. First is the excitement of new prospects, then the hard work begins. For a while things start to get a bit messy as the new tactics and strategy are learnt and implemented. Hopefully after that messy time the effects of the work will start to show, all the elements of their strategy start to fit together - and then the team starts winning.
Where it all seems to go wrong is during that messy phase. Commentator, critics, fans and government all get in on the act of telling the coach to sort things out, or else (in the words of The Donald), "You're fired!" And invariably, before things get better, the coach is fired, a new one is hired and we're back at the beginning, but worse off.
Onto the government...
If a brick was laid every time I heard, "The committee for (prisons, health, police etc.) has come up with a plan to deal with the crisis of (escapees, HIV/AIDS, crime)," we would not have a housing crisis in South Africa. It seems like we're always coming up with plans to solve things, but the plan changes every week, and all the useful time is spent coming up with a new plan.
This messes everyone around.
So what is the problem? Could it possibly be that we in South Africa are chronically impatient? Why are we not willing to wait and allow change to take effect?
I would postulate that most people are risk and change averse, that is, they like stability. Each change, each new plan, creates instability, and this makes everyone unhappy. New training, and unhappy workers means lower productivity. Lower productivity equals fewer results, which again equals a committee to solve the crisis in (prisons, health, policing etc.).
This is what Jim Collins would call a Doom Loop - and that's bad (just in case the word Doom didn't give it away).
By now it should be clear how this could apply to your business. Are you chronically impatient when you try or implement something new? Do you expect to have results NOW?
I think there are three things that we need to be very careful about when trying new systems.
- Are we able to measure the outcomes effectively?
- Are we measuring the correct thing? (it might not be as obvious as it seems)
- How long do we need to wait before we see real effects? (not just what we want to see)
- Watch it develop
Try to allow the system to grow on its own and watch where and why this is happening - you'll learn a lot from the people who are using it. Try to release some control and you will probably get something better than you could have thought up on your own.
- Get rid of inefficiencies
Instead of reinventing the whole system to get rid of every inefficiency that you can imagine, just get rid of those that are easy to change. Again, watch the system - the people doing the work will quickly let you know what is wasting their time.
- Create constant feedback
Always listen to what people are saying - you'll learn more that way than watching your metrics.
- Be flexible
You (and I) are not infalable. Adapt and remember that it is outcomes that are important, not whether your ideas are being followed perfectly.
Friday, August 11, 2006
The first reason?
Very few people actually understand what engineers do....and most of those that do, are engineers.
At first this caught me a little bit by surprise until I spent a little time thinking about it. I actually thought that more people would have an idea what engineers do (or can do, at least). I suppose that I shouldn't have been surprised - there are lots of reasons why people would have little or no knowledge of engineering. I would say that there are two main reasons, (1) engineers, and (2) the word engineer.
Firstly engineers....well what can I say? Ever been at a party or dinner with an engineer and someone has asked what they do? As soon as the words, "I'm an electronic engineer," roll off their tongue you can feel the fear as people wait in trepidation for some arcane explanation designed to impress a magna cum laude Ph.D graduate. During the explanation everyone's eyes roll back as they wait for the first chance to change the topic.
Put another way - we fail to explain ourselves well
The other problem is the word engineer and its multiplicity of meanings and interpretations. If you go look up the word engineer in the dictionary you'll find a number of meanings from,
engineer: "a person who runs or supervises an engine or an apparatus"
to something that I feel is closer to my definition,
engineer: "a person who uses scientific knowledge to solve practical problems"
As engineers we have not managed to create a clear definition of who we are and what we can do. And what is that really?
Well, one thing - engineers solve problems.
I'll be touching on some solutions to these issues in the future, along with my other marketing struggles - for now, send me some thoughts on this (and other reasons why engineering is not understood) - I'd love to hear them.
Technorati tags : engineers, marketing
Sunday, July 30, 2006
Just a bit of background information on me....
I was born on 6 August 1979 and grew up in Port Elizabeth (South Africa). After school I went on to study electrical and electronic engineering at the University of Stellenbosch. I obtained my undergraduate degree Cum Laude and began my Masters degree directly after that.
My thesis was the design of a transverse flux machine - a high torque density machine (i.e. small, but with lots of va-va-voom). I studied under Prof. Maarten Kamper in the Electrical Machines Research group. After a year of full time postgraduate study I got married (to a very beautiful girl) and moved up to Pretoria. I continued working on my Masters degree until obtaining it in April 2005.
While in Pretoria I worked at Mecalc designing the front end of the MODACS system (low noise analogue design with a good dose of microcontrollers and FPGAs). I was there for just over three years until I decided to start Engineer Simplicity, so we moved to Cape Town and I have been running the company for over two years now.
Running my company has been an interesting, exciting and challenging experience. I have met and worked with some great people, and expanded both my skill and capacity to deliver exciting solutions. I have also slowly come to realise what is really important to me. As I blogged I found myself being drawn more and more strongly toward issues such as energy efficiency (which I have always been interested in) and waste management.
I discovered that what is important to me is to create products that help us move towards a cleaner and better world. So my focus is to find ways to create better products – products that make us happy and are sensitive to the world we live in.
I write about various things in this blog, from environmental issues through to engineering design. My goal is to explore these issues from an engineering perspective. Hopefully this inspires engineers to build a better cleaner world, and exposes people to new thoughts and ideas on how to create a better life right now.
I am glad to have you on this journey with me.
Wednesday, July 12, 2006
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About this blog
About Engineer Simplicity
Engineer Simplicity specialises in the design and development of electronic products.
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