Monday, February 16, 2015

Peripatetic mindscapes...

Peripatetic mindscapes...  Long ago I observed that most of the engineers I worked with approached problems in a similar manner.  It's difficult to describe this similarity, especially in a non-technical way, but the general pattern is to approach an engineering problem with a large set of assumptions about how that problem might be attacked.  These assumptions might be about “best practices”, the “appropriate” tools, or many other things.  In all cases, though, the assumptions limit the creativity of the approach taken.

Another observation I made long ago is that there were exceptional engineers (I mean exceptional in both its senses: unusual and much better than average) who didn't seem to be encumbered by these assumptions.  I also noticed that many (though certainly not all) of these exceptional engineers were self-educated, as I am.  Could it be that the process of educating engineers somehow attaches this set of assumptions to them?  Well, today, of course, I'd say that was an obviously true conclusion, though when I was younger it wasn't nearly as obvious.

One characteristic of the workings of a mind unencumbered by a large set of engineering assumptions is a wide-ranging internal debate about what approach to take.  That internal debate is precisely what the aforementioned assumptions constrain – and it's why the absence of the assumptions results in a more productive creative process, as that enables the debate to include approaches that the assumptions would implicitly reject.

I just ran across an essay defining a term that describes this phenomenon: peripatetic mindscapes.  If you're interested in such things, it's a fascinating piece...

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