3 ways to harness creativity in engineering management
Innovation is crucial to the success of projects and organisations in the ever-changing engineering industry climate, and digitalisation of all industry sectors is placing a new emphasis on creativity. With new technologies such as 3D printing, robotics, artificial intelligence, and the internet of things, the only limit to what can be achieved is an engineer’s imagination.
According to the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), creativity is ranked amongst one of the most important competencies for future engineers to possess, alongside communication. For organisations, encouraging creativity in the workplace has the power to not only develop employee engagement, productivity, and development, but this can also reflect on a positive commercial impact and a differentiation point for businesses.
In this article, we assess three of the key methods for engineering managers to effectively use creativity in their everyday working lives.
What is the innovation process?
In a 2018 survey by global consultant AECOM, 71% of engineers said tried and tested approaches failed to meet the requirements of today’s increasingly complex infrastructure projects, emphasising the need for innovation in the industry.
Leading technology magazine Wired define innovation as evolutionary changes to existing processes, uses, or functions, which are made better by one (or several) contributing inventions, Meanwhile, Dan Trowsdale, Excellence and Innovation Fellow at the University of Leeds claims that “the purpose of innovation is the commercial exploitation of ideas in many forms, such as new products, services, customers, generating new markets, bigger margins, and competitive advantage”.
The innovation process is therefore about effectively executing new ideas into existing ways of working, designed to help engineers achieve creativity in the industry to overcome any project limitations and make it a success. The innovation process is typically split into three distinct areas; People, Processes and Product, all of which contribute to the success of an overarching project.
In engineering, ‘People’ can consist of anyone involved in a project, from team members to designers and pressure groups to clients. As such, a range of opinions need to be addressed from the project start to finish, and these diverse set of views have the potential to enhance the creative output of the process.
To harness creativity through people, engineering managers must encourage open communication with all stakeholders, particularly their team members, to facilitate innovative ways of working. This can be achieved by effective listening and encouraging ideas sharing, before implementing these concepts, showcasing the impact they are having on the project and crediting them to individual team members.
Alternatively, engineering managers could propose new ways to collaborate away from the typical methods of meetings, perhaps in a different environment or during guided brainstorming sessions. Not only will these tactics improve creativity, but it will also positively influence the engagement and satisfaction of their people too.
Engineering ‘processes’ are the series of steps and methods of working taken to deliver a project, such as the research, design, concept, testing and production stages. Each of these processes will influence the outcome of an engineering project, and harnessing creativity at each of these stages will innovatively develop the final result.
Engineering leaders must strive to find new ways of conducting research, using a range of both old and new sources of inspiration which can then be integrated into the design stage. They could also seek out new software to alternate the concepts they create and refresh the type of technology they are using which can develop their methods of testing.
Whilst ‘process’ innovation alters the delivery method of an engineering project, on the other hand, ‘product’ innovation is centred around improving the characteristics of an engineered good or service.
Harnessing creativity in this area is vital for engineers to manufacture innovative designs. This requires critical thinking and ingenuity around how technical specifications, components, software, or user friendliness and ergonomics can be developed to enhance the products ease of use.
As always, the engineering of products need to evolve around ever-changing environmental policies. Managers can address this by striving to increase the use of sustainable materials or producing effective ways to reduce emissions or wastage. This in-turn could also creatively modify the final product design.
Why do engineering managers need to demonstrate creativity and innovation?
Despite processes and technological standards becoming increasingly common across engineering, creativity is still vital. It is therefore important for engineering managers to demonstrate this to execute projects with a clear differentiation and give their organisations a unique selling point.
If you want to become a multiskilled professional at the forefront of engineering and the creativity and innovation surrounding it, you should consider becoming an Engineering Manager with the help of our specialised Masters. Our module in Innovation, Design and Creative Engineering will broaden your understanding of innovation practice in an engineering business context, exposing you to a range of tools which can support the innovation process and deepen your understanding of the impact and challenges of delivering it.
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