An important part of your job as an engineer is to apply creativity and strategy. We’re gonna talk about the one best way to do that today.
You’ve developed the ability to come up with creative and strategic ideas. And you’re trained to find innovative ways to implement them.
And you’re getting pretty good at it.
This is a skill that you’re forever expanding and improving. You’ll never stop getting better at it. So what do you do to hone that skill? What do you do to keep coming up with these ideas and ways to implement them?
Well, you know what? It’s not what you do. It’s what you don’t do.
You don’t crank up your research intensity. You don’t search and scroll. You don’t wrack your brain. You don’t struggle in any way.
Because you can’t force ideas. You allow them. The one best way is to just be. You set time aside. You find a place where you won’t be disturbed. And you allow ideas to come to you.
This is hard because you think not “doing” something looks bad. It doesn’t seem like “doing nothing” would be productive. You equate good work with productivity. Productivity with action. Action with effort.
But these things get in the way of the flow of new ideas.
Now, you know a lot of ways to get your creative juices flowing. And maybe you already practice some of them, like
- Meditation and exercise
- Indulging yourself in an activity you really love
- Being in nature or changing your environment
- Playing games or puzzles or pursuing other creative hobbies.
But what has the most impact is creating white space. Arranging downtime. Being in silence. Imagine a blank sheet. And just be.
How to Allow the Flow of Creative and Strategic Ideas
Here are 3 steps for allowing the flow of creative and strategic ideas:
- Schedule time on your calendar.
You might be thinking there are already pockets of downtime during the day so you don’t need to schedule it. But you want a span of uninterrupted time, so you need to block it out.
I think it’s Gretchen Rubin who says, “Something that can be done at any time is often done at no time.” You need to plan for it. Put it on your calendar.
Hold yourself accountable for this. Or if you need outer accountability, find a colleague who will hold you to it. And do the same for them.
- Remove all distractions.
No devices. Really. None. This is key.
Find an appropriate space where you can close the door. Post a sign so people know you’re not available for 30 minutes or your preferred amount of time.
And in case you’re like me, there’s no cleaning allowed. No tidying up or putzing around. Remove those distractions, too.
- Be comfortable and calm. Just be.
For creative ideas, let your mind ponder and wander. Wonder and reflect.
For strategic ideas, allow yourself to think big picture and future what-if.
If you want to capture some of your thoughts and ideas, you can jot them down. But be careful not to let list-making get in the way of your flow of ideas. And you don’t have to capture all your ideas. You’ll still benefit from the ideation process.
This is more about practicing being still and open. It’s more about learning how to make space for ideas to manifest. And less about having detailed results in the end.
Why Women Engineers Are Good at Ideation – and Why They’re Not.
As a woman and an engineer you’re particularly good at this. I’ll generalize a bit here by saying as a woman you tend to be open to new ideas. You tend to take in various perspectives. And you tend to think holistically. This helps with the process of generating ideas.
As an engineer, you might naturally spend a lot of time in your head. So you wouldn’t be uneasy just pondering, thinking and reflecting. You may also be an introvert who does well on her own and is comfortable with silence.
And since coming up with creative solutions and innovative applications is part of your job, you’ll get used to finding time to nurture your ideas.
On the other hand, watch out for these weaknesses:
- You may be one to get caught up in detail work. At the expense of big picture thinking, for example.
- Or you may tend not to do things for yourself. So you might hesitate to set time aside just for you to ponder and be.
- As an engineer you have a strong tendency to compartmentalize and label, structure and organize. Which can interfere with ideation.
- And depending on your particular engineering job, it’s easy to spend too much time fighting fires or tackling that everlasting to-do list. And not enough time developing your creative or strategic ideas.
Remember that building your strategic thinking skills and your creativity and innovation abilities is just as important as your other engineering tasks. Even more important as you stretch into leadership roles.
Arranging downtime and creating that white space also enhance your intuitive awareness, your clarity and your perspective.
I invite you to intentionally let yourself just be. Make it a regular practice. Enter the right environment to allow ideas to come to you.
And here’s a reminder to be sure to check out my guide, “4 Steps to Start Commanding Greater Influence and Impact as a Woman Engineer.” Download your free copy now at HerEngineeringCareer.com/subscribe.
Next time on Her Engineering Career Podcast we’ll talk about aligning your engineering career with what’s important to you. I hope you’ll join me for Episode 68.