Saturday, July 31, 2010

Unscientific America - Thoughts about communication

In their book, Unscientific America: How scientific illiteracy threatens our future, Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum make the point that it is not so much that Americans are not knowledgeable about science but that there is a lack of communication between scientists and the general public. The book examines many of the reasons for this but in reading the book, it brought to mind the "Curse of Knowledge" from Made to Stick.

As scientists and engineers, we address all sides of a problem, considering the advantages and disadvantages and weighing their relative merits. This is vital, but once a decision has been made, one should consider simplifying things in order to more effectively communicate. To what extent one simplifies depends on the audience. In Chapter 5, Mooney and Kirshenbaum write about Preston Manning who distinguishes between "source-oriented communicators" and "receiver-oriented communicators". Don't communicate from your perspective but "think about the audience and how to reach it". Are you talking to other engineers, to engineering managers, to business leaders, to the general public? Each of these audiences will need a different presentation tailored to their perspective.

There is a difference between transmitting information and communication information.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Isolation and Creativity

I've also come across a blog posting about the Creativity Trigger. I might be misinterpreting it a bit, but one of the things the author mentions is being overloaded by information such that one doesn't have original thoughts but merely reforms what someone else has already done. Well he's a designer, and originality has more value in that area that for a scientist or engineer, but I think we can learn from him. While it is important to be linked, and exposed to many sources of information, you should also balance this with times of isolation. This can bring new solutions, approaches, and strategies towards our problems.

Like everything in life, we need to strike a balance in how we go about solving problems. You can't be everything at all times, so take the time to make a conscious shift in your approach from time to time.

Networks, Hubs, and Problem Solving

I recently finished reading Linked: How Everything is Connected to Everything Else and What it Means. In this overview of networks and the many places they appear in the world, the author mentions that there are hubs that connect different areas of the network to each other and they are key in getting information across the network. You may have heard of the six degrees of Kevin Bacon which is a game people play to relate any actor to Kevin Bacon based on movies they have acted in in common. The reason this game works is because there are actors who have acted in many movies alongside many other actors. Because of these actors who are 'hubs', actors who seem to have nothing in common are linked to each other.

That brought to mind problem solving. If you are an expert in one area, but have no connections to other disciplines, your impact will be in a relatively small area. You only interact with others with a similar background and your problem solving will have depth but not breadth. Your network is isolated, or you rely on someone else to be the hub to network your skills and knowledge to other areas.

Try to foster links in other disciplines, that way you will be a hub that will transfer solutions to many areas, just the way a major actor links many actors together. Likewise, engage those from other areas since they may be working on things that are solutions to the problems you have.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Organization and Creativity

One doesn't think of a methodical, organized person as creative. There's no eureka moment, frenzy of activity, or sudden change to point to. However, part of being creative is being prepared. Musicians practice long hours on very basic skills in order to have the ability to demonstrate artistry with ease. You can't play a concerto without having mastered tone and articulation. Despite what one might think, making music doesn't come naturally.

Problem solvers should build up a database (some might call it a repertoire) of information, techniques, and connections. You never know what might be of importance in addressing a problem you encounter. If you haven't toyed around with something, you won't know it's capabilities when faced with a problem. I've posted on this topic before, perhaps more specifically. Take time to learn new skills, play around with things, and build up a database of information in order to be prepared for your next eureka moment.

Here's Joan Rivers sharing about her creativity.