Engineers and creativity – an oxymoron?

The other day I was asked by an engineer to help him come up with a name for an in-house software tool that helps engineers make a lot of complicated calculations to see whether a certain service is possible.

The name of the current tool is SLBT.
Which obviously is an acronym for what it does.
Not very sexy…

I had asked him to explain the tool and its use and output a bit better so as to at least have an understanding of what it’s supposed to do. I also wanted to know why he wanted another name and what kind of name he was looking for.

The plan was to ‘brainstorm’, just the two of us… mmmhhh.
Two brains don’t really create a storm. A slight breeze maybe. And the word brainstorming is overrated anyway.

So when the meeting came up I took a colleague and a summer student with me to the meeting. It’s always good to have a diversified group.

The engineer started explaining the tool (with a little too much detail for my taste…) which gave a good insight into what we were discussing.

I started with a creative thinking tool called ‘random object’.

I was winging it here. I had nothing prepared. Trust me, creativity is a lot about winging it.
I picked up a random object in the meeting room (let me tell you: corporate meeting rooms totally lack random objects, I mean, ‘interesting’ random objects): a notebook (more like an exercise book students use in school).

First we wrote down anything that came into our minds when looking and thinking about the notebook.

  • pages
  • paper
  • square
  • school
  • cover
  • write
  • etc…

Then we started taking those words and tried to link them to the task at hand: the software tool.

Here is a picture of the whole process:

It was interesting to see the engineer’s reacting to this, for him unusual, way of thinking. But he was impressed with the result that was obtained within a very short period of time. He said that after many brainstorming meetings with other engineers all the names produced were not satisfactory (need I say that most of them were acronyms? :-)

No decision has been taken yet. I think a name such as RAINBOW is probably too ‘woozy’ for the engineering world to be accepted :-)

What I did want to stress though with the engineer is that creativity is a muscle, it’s not a gift, it’s a skill and it can be trained and learned by anyone, anytime, anyplace. It’s just a question of practice.

I think (and I hope) that the engineers of this world will ask for creative input more often. We would have a lot more happy products in this world.

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