UpFront: Who's Creative?
By Brian J. Hogan
In the long-ago days of my youth, when I was knocking around a college campus and pounding away at my engineering courses, I cheerfully accepted the idea that the side of campus occupied by the fine arts and literature crowd was where the "creative" people lived. Those of us studying the hard sciences, engineering, math, or—God forbid—business, were, I understood, quite decidedly not creative. So it should be clear to all that at that time of my life, the (much) younger me had swallowed a good deal of nonsense.
Time and experience will change everyone who is open to change. Contact with engineers, scientists, technicians, and tradesmen of all sorts has helped me realize that we live in a world formed by creative people with many different skill sets.
Scientists, engineers, technicians, and tradesmen give intellectual and physical form to concepts that are useful, even vital. Manufacturing engineers, managers, and workers take the discoveries of the scientists and the inventions of design engineers, and turn them into things that can be used by all, and that can benefit all. No honest person who uses a manufactured product, such as a computer, sound system, medical device, or automobile can deny that it was made by creative people.
The argument is, of course, that this type of creativity is inferior to the "true creativity" of a poet, a novelist, a painter. Why? Declaring that the products of the fine arts speak to us across time isn't a sufficient response. Articles and systems as diverse as Spartan armor, Clipper ships, and Henry Ford's Model T can also speak to us with great power. They represent artifacts of the human spirit every bit as significant as any novel.
And why should all of that matter? Well, my point is that to accept the designation of manufacturing, and other technical fields, as noncreative, is to accept a second-class status. In that case, we are to assume that persons in technical fields, including manufacturing, must accept the status of servants. We will attend to the grubby side of existence, freeing other, nobler souls to dwell and function on a higher, better plane.
And all that's rubbish. Western civilization was largely created by the widespread adoption of the scientific method, and all of our modern technology is a consequence of that adoption. Our prosperity, our safety, even our abundant food supply, are derived from the application of human intelligence, in accordance with scientific principles, to solving the problems faced by human beings and enhancing human existence. If words have any meaning, that sort of activity is most definitely creative.
This article was first published in the October 2007 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine.