Updated: Nov 11, 2021
Part 1 of 5 for the November edition of "Converging over Coffee"
After writing for some time about engineers and engineering, it’s become increasingly clear that we have a critical role to step up to in shaping the uncertain future in front of us. With climate change as our existential mission, the stakes are high. It will depend a lot on our ability as a society to change, adapt and innovate. Engineers are key to this as we occupy a significant part of the process to take a great idea to implementation, and turn a novel solution into reality. The series this week will share some thoughts on why engineering, how challenging it will be and what we can do to take it on.
We tend to think of engineering as the step that comes at the later stage of any creation process. What happens before is driven by suggestions, options and alternatives. But when it comes to the engineering step, we want a high degree of certainty. The difference isn’t about the amount of creativity or innovation that goes into the process because we always need those… from the start to the very end. The difference is that towards the later stages, we don’t accept uncertainty quite as much. By then, things need to just work.
For things to work, engineers bring a range of competencies to implement a concept and turn it into a usable, often physical solution. The practice is based on science-based methods that are robust and validated through the practice of those who came before. Those methods are made even more reliable with buffers & safety margins either built into assumptions or applied to the methods themselves. All of these in the name of protecting the interests, welfare and safety of the end-users - very often the public at large.
Therein lies what I’m convinced is the fundamental value of engineering - Trust.
Trust is the ingredient we need to bridge the gap between innovation and adoption. It’s not hard to come up with very real examples of how the best innovation struggle to bring the benefits they should, simply because we can’t overcome the trust gap and adoption gets stuck. We need the best of minds to come up with the innovation needed to develop resilient communities, create a low-carbon economy and achieve sustainable development. But to achieve the necessary adoption, people want to trust that things will work. And we know who we look to for this.