Protect Yourself With Engineering Thinking

24 Jul

Why engineering thinking?

Because it can help you avoid wrong choices, from the purchase of a laundry detergent to the selection of a doctor, a mate, a career, or a congressional representative.

Engineering thinking is a proven method for achieving success. Just take a look around you and count the number of gadgets and gizmos that make your world comfortable, productive, and fun. All of the appliances, tools, cell phones, PDAs, autos, TVs, and other necessities in and around your home required the guiding hand of an engineer. The technology that supports your health — surgical tools, diagnostic instruments, life-saving drugs — are likewise the creative products of engineering expertise.

Why is engineering thinking so successful? Because engineers can’t afford to be irrational. They can’t afford to have their designs explode or their bridges collapse…

…so they learn to think carefully, where conclusions are arrived at unemotionally and methodically.

Why not put the power of engineering thinking to work for you? It won’t require you to learn any math, physics, chemistry, or even how to speak geek. It will only require that you be honest with yourself, that you set your slogans and labels aside, and that you learn some simple conceptual tools of the trade. In future posts I’ll provide the details.

You’re invited to submit any questions you like about your pocketbook (money, the economy, taxes, bailouts), your liberty (governmental control of our lives, our legal system), and your life (health care, the environment, safety), or even about workplace issues or relationships. I will show you how you can answer those questions yourself, using the power of engineering thinking.

-Ed Walker


5 responses to “Protect Yourself With Engineering Thinking

  1. William G. Emener

    August 4, 2009 at 2:51 am

    Hello Ed,
    Via an e-mail from Barbara, I found your blog and read your first post. Very interesting to say the very least and look forward to seeing more of your ideas regarding the application of engineering principles to the decision-making processes in life.
    Having leaned toward a cognitive-behavioral approach to counseling and psychotherapy in my work as a psychologist (now no longer practicing, just doing pro bono work), I understandably am interested and intrigued by your thoughts and considerations. And while not trying to appear snide or challenging – rather just curious – I would be interested in knowing your thoughts pertinent to the following question: If a human being uses his or her cognitions (engineering thinking) to address his or her life issues, what is the role of his or her emotions (feelings)?
    Please know, I have no hidden agenda nor am I trying to be contrite – the relationship between a person’s thoughts/thinking and his or her emotions/feelings always has been a challenging consideration for me. To wit, I simply would enjoy knowing some of your thoughts regarding this.
    I wish you well with your blog, Ed, and look forward to your continuing thoughts and views regarding any of this.
    Thank you,
    Bill Emener

    • engineeringthinking

      August 5, 2009 at 4:58 pm

      Hi Bill,

      Thank you for your kind comments and stimulating question. It is actually quite a huge question, and I am not foolhardy enough to go lightly traipsing around its acreage. However, my planned posts do include the topic of emotions with respect to making decisions, in which I will be addressing at least a narrow slice of your query. For the moment, and within that narrow context, I can say from an engineering thinking perspective that emotional factors tend to interfere with rational thinking. In a Design Review (a peer-group meeting that is structured to focus on factual data (research, analysis)), emotion is removed as a factor, at least to the extent possible. It is this structure of enforced discipline that yields objective and fact-based decisions. Outside of such constraints, e.g. down at the local pub having a beer and talking about sports or politics, engineers are just as fractious and emotional as anyone. But when making decisions that can affect their company’s health, their jobs, and oftentimes other people’s lives, the discipline of a Design Review does a pretty good job of eliminating emotional clutter.

      In my experience, emotional content can enhance decision-making when used as a supportive backdrop to set a positive tone for discussions, but interferes when inserted into the discussions.


  2. Barbara

    August 5, 2009 at 7:21 am

    I’m so glad you brought that up, Bill! The way that I have been thinking about the role of emotions is that they are flags or leading indicators, sort of like taking a temperature. Negative emotions are flags for some dysfunction that needs to be addressed, ie. we are angry for a reason, what is that reason? So far in my experience it sometimes isn’t what the client thinks it is. And, conversely, positive emotions mean things are going “right” for that person. So, my opinion is that they are important, but should not be used in a vacuum, but rather as a prompt for further self inquiry. Your thoughts?


  3. Bill Emener

    August 6, 2009 at 4:41 pm

    Hello Ed and Barb,

    I shall comment quickly… I’m curious to see what others may have to say.

    Per your point, Barb, Ed is smart — he’s offering good ideas within the limits and boundaries he has established. What I hear him saying is something like, “I think ‘thinking about life’s issues’ is very important and here are some good ideas to think about when you think about your life issues.” And please hear me — I am in no way minimizing the value of his insights and suggestions. My asking him about the role of emotions (or another thought I was going to throw his way was “What about values?”) is asking him to violate the parameters of his observations and suggestions. (A little unfair, yes — but as you could see he was smart and did not take the bait).

    This fall when I am teaching my graduate course, Theories of Counseling and Psychotherapy, and covering the cognitive/behavioral theorists (Ellis, Beck and Meichenbaum), I will refer my students to this blog — it’ll be great for them to see an engineering approach to cognitive approaches to aspects of life.

    This is fun… thanks again!


    • engineeringthinking

      August 11, 2009 at 2:49 pm

      Hi Bill,

      Thanks very much for your supportive comments, and for referring Engineering Thinking to your students. I look forward to their observations and perspective. In my view a mix of backgrounds contributes to much better insights for all.



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