First You Get Good, Then You Get Fast: The Value of Critical Thinking

(Photo: Hyunjun Fred Woo)

(Photo: Hyunjun Fred Woo)

Designers and engineers are paid to solve problems.  Yet, in an age of rapid technological progression, engineers are finding themselves unable to think critically.  At present, the market is flooded with poorly designed, rapidly produced products that lead to an overflow of waste.  This abundance is evidenced by the fact that the United States spends more money on trash bags in total than ninety other countries spend on everything.  However, there is a different kind of waste that is equally corrosive to the progress of society—people thinking solely for the sake of thinking.  When the context of thought is lost, the innovator is no longer producing his or her own product and is no longer responsible for his or her intellectual property.

Our fast-paced culture has impacted the engineer’s problem-solving plan. With this wave of surplus comes the pressure to produce products that are beautiful, unique, profound, and disposable due to their expedited quality. Industry needs to return to its roots: design for functionality and durability. The beauty of true industry should lie in the sharing of well thought-out ideas.  Humility and patience produce products that retain value. There is something to be said for a gathering of specialized craftsman that are working together to fashion a product of use, value, and longevity.

Mark McJunkin, an expert in concept development with a Bachelor’s in Fine Arts, suggests that linear problem solving isn’t a completely effective education.  A linear education produces a student with a plethora of credentials and not many tangible skills.  Learning a valuable skill takes specialization and hours of repetition. He says that “the key is steady refinement of a craft; you should never be in a hurry.”  In a world where Google is God and Wikipedia rules, it can feel very laborious to focus on the depth of knowledge rather than its breadth.  With so many influences swirling around engineers, it can be difficult to focus one’s eyes inward.  Thus, they often lose sight of exploring innovative ideas.  Here are six ways to ensure that your thought process is sufficiently insular.

Ways to get “good” before you get “fast”:

  1. Acquire the ability to clear your palate of all interruptions.
  2. Learn to maintain focus for up to five hours.
  3. Materialize thoughts into reality
  4. Practice visualizing processes in your mind based on what you know of reality due to recurring rehearsal.
  5. Begin implementing a goal to find the simplest of solutions.  You should strive for the fewest possible moves to achieve the desired end result.
  6. Make problem solving an active process driven by curiosity.  Be able to know that you’ve done something similar before, yet solve the problem as if you don’t have the solution.

The security of science lies in knowledge-based decision making.  Insular thinking, a work environment unimpeded with the distractions of mass productions, will eventually put intellectual responsibility back in the hands of the engineer.  The speed of a process should be a result of continual re-launching into the unknown.  The ultimate objective should be to produce both sustainable and profitable bio products.

Sara Khalek

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