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Episode Transcript

One thing you do very well as an engineer is solve problems. You love that satisfying feeling of figuring it out. Of applying what you know and partnering with clever minds and reaching a solution. 

It’s that buzz we get as engineers.

But getting to that point is largely determined by how you approach the problem in the first place. And that’s what we’re exploring today.

You’ve worked on projects that don’t go anywhere. Or end up way off target. When nothing clicks. Nothing works. You can’t crack the code. When the problem just seems unsolvable.

There are times that you know it’s a tough problem. You know it’s complicated. You question your ability to solve it. But you throw all your effort into it. 

Because the expectation is that it’s gonna be a struggle. And you need to match that struggle by exerting all you’ve got.

And that’s the catch. You’re expecting it to be a struggle. And so it is. 

In Engineering and Life, You Get What You Expect

But the flip side is also true. Projects can turn out just fine because you expect them to. You can change the experience of solving a problem by changing your perspective of it.

If you approach it aggressively, furiously grasping at plans and schemes, forcing ideas and solutions, then the problem overwhelms you. 

Your work gets sloppy. You make wrong assumptions. And too many mistakes. There’s friction among the team. Nerves get frazzled. Passion and determination turn into anger and frustration.

But you can decide to approach it calmly. You can address each problem in a more affirmative way. 

You can decide it’s a solvable problem before you even start. And that you’re gonna be the one to solve it.

Insights for Ensuring Successful Outcomes for Engineering Problems

Here’s what I mean: Here are some ways to approach work problems and life situations that increase the likelihood of successful outcomes:

  1. Slow down and breathe, and you’ll see a way through. 

This is a life lesson that applies to engineering problem solving too. Take a deep breath and your mind will be open. 

You’ll be ready to address the situation. Brainstorming becomes much more feasible. And you’ll start to see the possibilities.

  1. Trust that the problem is solvable, and you’ll figure it out more readily.

When you expect the problem to be hard, your behavior will confirm that expectation. You hurry. You take action before thinking it through. 

You make silly mistakes. Your body becomes tense with struggle. 

The opposite is also true. If you expect the problem to be solvable – even easy – there’s less resistance. You become more open and aware. 

So take a minute to look at the problem as it really is. Know that it is solvable and you’ll know what to do at the right time.

  1. Face the problem with confidence, and your ability to solve it is enhanced. 

You can easily slip into feelings of inadequacy. And feelings become beliefs become actions. So turn those feelings into affirmations to work in your favor. 

Leverage Your Hindsight in Engineering Problem Solving

You also have the benefit of hindsight in problem solving.

Think of a time when you worked through a complex problem and ended up with a successful result. Now remember what you were thinking before you even approached it. 

You had doubts. Many things seemed impossible. There was no apparent solution. You felt overwhelmed and uncertain.

But then you got started. You took it step by step. You applied what you knew and got help from others. And eventually you came to the solution. And it was better than you could have imagined. 

Now you can look back and see that it wasn’t impossible. You did it, and you’re proud of it. You learned something. And now you have more confidence for the next time.

I had this very experience when I launched this podcast. In the beginning I was not convinced I could do it. 

The mountain of tasks for getting it in place seemed huge. It was a brand new skill to learn. And a scary one for me.

But I did it. And now I look back with pride to see what I accomplished and how far I’ve come. It’s given me confidence to tackle things I never thought I could.

By the way you can check out all 85 episodes here or your favorite podcast app. 

You don’t have to listen to them in order. Pick your favorite topics. And then share them with your engineering friends.

Today’s insights apply to solving engineering problems, to all kinds of work problems, and to life in general. 

They work for everything from figuring out an online form to fixing a broken appliance. From submitting a travel request to designing a building. 

As a woman engineer, your experience of problem solving at work and in life can be made easier…

…By slowing down and trusting that the problem is solvable by you.

Next time on Her Engineering Career Podcast we’ll take a look at what women engineers can learn from the theater. Be sure to join me for Episode 86.