Sunday, January 1, 2012

A 2012 To Do List For Engineers

Consider the following list of skills, ideas, and issues that all engineers might want to consider for 2012:
  • Get Macroeconomics - - Basic macroeconomics will dominate a large portion of this century.  From income inequality, to job creation, to public austerity, to sovereign debt concerns - - the livelihood of engineering interfaces directly with issues relating to economics.  In addition, we face a future in which 1/3 of the globe will be receiving some form of public or private pension.  Don't dust off the old college economics book.  Find a good economics blog.  My favorite read is the Marginal Revolution by Tyler Cowen.
  • Improve Your Listening Skills - - Communication involves receiving as well as sending signals.  It has been asserted that we spend 70% of our time awake in some mode of communication, which is comprised of the following - - 10% writing, 15% reading, 30% talking, and 45% listening.  Listening is crucial in the workplace and engineering.  It entails the reception and correct understanding of verbal communication and without effective listening skills, the verbal message can be distorted or ignored, thereby causing the communication process to fail.  Listening - - the other part of communication - - get better at it.
  • Master Visual Literacy - - Improve the quality of your visual communication skills.  It is clear that every engineering profession relies heavily on the use of visual forms as a means of non-verbal communication.  The Internet and new software tools have changed the world of graphic and image-based information.  Master the new world of enhanced and cool graphics and photographs.
  • Reach Across the Aisle - - Communication between disciplines (engineering and other professions) is an important  aspect that needs to be considered.  Our problems and projects are interdisciplinary.  Identify opportunities  between engineering and other disciplines.  Expand your network - - civil engineers meeting with mechanical engineers.  All engineers networking with investment bankers and lawyers.
  • Study a Sustainability Issue in Detail - - Phoenix is an interesting laboratory for studying sustainability issues and concerns.  Two new books address this issue in the context of Phoenix and the Southwest - - Bird on Fire: Lesson's From the World's Least Sustainable City by Andrew Ross and Disappearing Desert: The Growth of Phoenix and the Culture of Sprawl by Janine Schipper.
  • Think About Levines' Comments - - Mark Levine of the New York Times had the following observation - - "Owning is dull, selfish, timid, and backward, while sharing is clean, crisp, urbane, and post-modern."  How does engineering interface with a potential new world of collaborative consumption (e.g., Zipcar).
  • Think Like the Colonel - - Rethink your notion of career and retirement.  Harlan Sanders founded Kentucky Fried Chicken when he was sixty-five.  The key issue - - the more Colonel's, the less potential Social Security and Medicare "underfundment" problems.
  • Reflect on Thomas Jefferson - - "Every generation needs a new revolution," Thomas Jefferson wrote toward the end of his life.  If you are graduating in 2012, what will be your generation's revolution?
  • Engineering Empathy - - Managers and engineers who display empathy skills are able to communicate honestly and proactively.  They also have great listening skills.  Listening to another person's point of view helps the listener become more aware of the person's needs and wants.  The lesson for engineers - - empathy skills are required in managing interpersonal relationships in the workplace with colleagues, clients, customers, and other stakeholders.
  • Manage Change Better - - Everyone wants progress, but no one wants change.  Out-of-the-box thinking is seen as too expensive, too disruptive, too weird or too risky.  If you hear such a response, it's probably masking the real settlement: fear of failure.  Firms that succumb to fear don't have the mind-set needed to innovate.  Engineers have a unique task - - come up with ideas customers and clients would never be able to think of through their own efforts.  Fear of failure should not be part of this process.
  • Embrace a Culture and Attitude of Resilience - - Read about Earnest Shackleton and his expedition to Antarctica.  Nothing speaks to the ideas of reinvention and survival than this story.  Resilience is vital in our own time, when leaders and engineers must often change course midstream - - jettisoning earlier standards of success and refining their  purposes and plans.  Read the Shackleton case study by Harvard Business School professor Nancy Koehn.

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