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Engineering Management


Engagement: The Key to Innovation


Mar 19 2018

After spending four long, but very worth it, days at SOLIDWORKS World (SWW) 2018, I came back to San Diego trying to quickly pick up where I left off prior to leaving for LA. As I sat at my desk, wading through hundreds of emails, Brent Bushnell’s talk, The Art of Engagement, kept popping into my head.

Brent Bushnell was not only the most interesting and talented speaker at SWW, but he also has the coolest job EVER. Simply put, he designs fun. Brent Bushnell is the CEO of Two Bit Circus, an experiential entertainment company at the intersection of fun, innovation, and design.

two bit circus flaming dunk tank

Outsiders looking in (myself included) might see Brent, his team, and all of their cool design projects and think there’s no realistic way to get to where he is. Brent challenged the entire SOLIDWORKS community to change that mindset and explains that all it takes is something called “engagement.” I understand his definition of engagement to mean genuine curiosity. A curiosity to learn and a curiosity that pushes the bounds of what’s possible.

This curiosity, or engagement as Brent calls it, is what powers Elon Musk to send Falcon Heavy into space, which launched during SWW, and makes the founders of Loon envision balloon-powered internet. Engagement pushes our industry forward and makes what was once thought of as impossible, possible. It’s the heart of innovation.

In order to reach engagement, you need to create an environment that cultivates creativity. Here are the nine methods Brent suggests for cultivating creativity and pushing the envelope of innovation.

1. Random Input

Brent challenged the audience to experience more. Every time you try something new, every time you experiment and succeed, or fail, you learn something and gain input. Each time you gain input, your brain starts applying that learning to other inputs and you build creativity.

Brent explained his own experience with this – he’s a trained clown, worked for Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, and even become a conference crasher. All of these random, disconnected experiences culminated in Two Bit Circus, which lead him to speak on the main stage at SWW.

2. Shoshin

Shoshin is a Zen Buddhist word meaning “beginners mind.” As a novice or as an expert, one should approach a subject with curiosity, openness, and the absence of preconceptions to properly practice Shoshin.This allows your brain to notice small nuances and different possibilities it would have otherwise ignored.

I’ve heard some of the best designers embrace this concept by going back to relearn the basic functions in SOLIDWORKS every year. This helps them understand how the next generation is learning these techniques and ensures they are working in the most current, effective, and efficient ways.

3. Reflect

Brent says it’s important to take time to do nothing. The brain is a powerful processing machine that requires time to make connections. Taking a step back to think can help you realize things you may not have originally considered. Take at least 15 minutes every day to just think and allow your brain to process.

4. Take Notes

Brent isn’t talking about just any type of notes when he suggests taking notes, he’s specifically referring to physical notes – pen on paper. The act of writing helps the brain to learn and remember more as more senses are engaged.

5. Stimulating Environments

Creating an environment that opens you up to learning and creativity is important. It allows you to be present and open to engaging. Google, for example, has many types of work environments within their buildings for this very reason. They have hammocks, bikes, lego pods, areas with turf, ping pong tables, and puzzles all in an effort to create different environments for people to think creatively. This isn’t practical for many of us, as we don’t have Google money. However, changing your environment can have the same effect. Take your computer outside, sit on the floor, or sit with a completely different department for the day.

6. Cross Disciplinary

The more you interact with people of different disciplines and departments, the more info you have to leverage. And, of course, the more info you have, the more inputs for creativity.

Different departments and different minds approach problems in their own unique ways. Sometimes it only takes on differing approach to open your mind to a completely different direction or idea.

7. Access to Tools

Tools are advancing so much that we can do almost anything. Brent suggests taking a different approach by starting with a tool and tinkering with it to figure out all the cool things you can do. Through the discovery of a tool’s capabilities, you’ll iterate and tweak things until you get to something brilliant and new.

I witness our content development team apply this method first hand. They’re always tinkering with the 3D printer we have in the office. They push their tool in order to get creative with their approach and, each time they make something, it spurs an idea for the next creation.

solidprofessor 3d printed shape

8. Think like a Hacker

Brent defines hackers as people who own their environment. He points to a quote by Madeleine L’Engle, “Inspiration usually comes during work, rather than before it,” to explain the art of tinkering and working through problems, much like a hacker.

In grade school, we often learned by doing. We did science experiments, learned about food by gardening, and created star rooms to experience space in “real life.” Hackers continue this mentality into their careers. By doing things, they find themselves solving problems they didn’t even know existed which spurs innovative ideas.

9. Mentorship

Everyone has something to teach, so everyone should be a mentor. We need mentors to teach the next generation and the next generation to teach us. It’s scientifically proven people benefit from simply witnessing mentorship. So if you’re not a mentor yourself, at least surround yourself with them.

People often seek out mentors who are similar to themselves. However, engaging in mentorship with someone who thinks and works differently from you will help you get out of your comfort zone and learn to approach things with a different mindset.

The industry needs to continue to innovate in order to push the bounds of what’s possible. Cultivating creativity by adopting a continuous learning mindset and creating opportunities for learning in every environment is necessary for innovation to continue. While Brent’s talk was focused on the engineering and design community, his suggestions can, and should be, adopted by anyone seeking to continuously learn, improve, and innovate.

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Sarah Schiro
Sarah Schiro

About the Author

Sarah Schiro

SolidProfessor Director of Marketing and San Diego's biggest Seahawks fan.