Creativity is a Cornerstone of Engineering

Creativity is a Cornerstone of Engineering

Engineers and scientists are certainly considered some of the smartest individuals around.  Even in engineering school there were hierarchies – electrical engineering and biochemical or chemical are considered the toughest disciplines, with mechanical and computer and civil engineering considered more tolerable amid an extremely challenging 4-5 years of schoolwork.


I am going to make a bold statement here – engineers are also some of the most creative individuals around.  An outrageous statement from this chemical engineer who heads up an ad agency? Not really. Every day I see this strange reluctance from the technical types we are lucky enough to work with at McDAY, who have somehow bought into the idea that they are not creative.


Screen Shot 2016-01-30 at 12.11.37 PMPerhaps it occurs because math and science talent is often identified in children so early, thus separating the childlike creativity of elementary school years – painting, playing instruments, singing, drawing, storytelling – from mathematics and science?  The two sets of talents seem so divergent at this early stage and thus get separated in the minds of parents and schoolteachers – and the labels begin. “She’s such a math whiz. He’s so creative.” And never the two shall meet…


I just spoke to a mom yesterday whose son is determined to study engineering but struggles with the English (essay) portions of standardized tests.  Writing can be tough for a lot of people, while math is a real stumbling block for others. A recent John Hopkins study confirmed a gift for mathematics is present at birth, and many musicians, artists, and writers are similarly gifted from an early age. However, I maintain that “creativity of thought” is absolutely part of the engineer’s training, and I have had fascinating conversations with engineers who initially stated that they knew nothing about marketing but had some deeply insightful thoughts about how their customers made decisions or creative messaging ideas once we refused to listen to their “I’m not a creative type” comments.


The best marketing results come from brainstorming – throwing a ton of ideas on the table about how to reach the targeted customers. One thought can lead to amazing visualizations or a different headline, and every path generates alternatives.


Engineers and scientists solve problems in much the same way and are trained in much the same manner – to consider a multitude of options – they design test protocols to test various ideas, even measuring them against a standard or placebo in the case of testing new therapies in the pharmaceutical world. Eventually, the best idea rises to the top. Engineers are trained to consider options. The best ones do this very well.


McDAY encourages clients to participate in our brainstorming – we never just deliver a single concept for a new ad campaign or even just a single theme. We throw open our world and allow clients to “see” our process by showing a full series of ideas, expressed in the artwork (sketches at first), written copy, developed headlines, etc. Our technical clients love the visual, tactical ability to “see” the ideas before allowing their own ideas to flow. (Because, face it, even a touchy-feely word like brainstorming has a funny effect in a room of engineers!)


Creativity in marketing takes a release of inhibition in order to allow ideas to flow almost willy-nilly for a period of time, allowing us to capture a myriad of possible concepts, which could resonate with the end-user and produce solutions.  And that’s exactly what scientists and engineers do when they tackle process, testing, manufacturing problems in their worlds.