Habits of Mind

Habits of mind are traits or ways of thinking that affect how a person looks at the world or reacts to a challenge.

Engineering habits of mind allow engineers to routinely come up with solutions to problems or improvements to current technologies or ways of doing things. The habits of mind listed here are so encouraged—even rewarded—by engineering experiences that, over time, they become part of an engineer’s everyday thinking.

Creativity

Being able to look at the world and identify new patterns or relationships or imagine new ways of doing things is something at which engineers excel. Finding new ways to apply knowledge and experience is essential in engineering design and is a key ingredient of innovation.

Albert Einstein portrait

Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.

Albert Einstein

Optimism

Engineers, as a general rule, believe that things can always be improved. Just because it hasn’t been done yet, doesn’t mean it can’t be done. Good ideas can come from anywhere and engineering is based on the premise that everyone is capable of designing something new or different.

Helen Keller portrait

No pessimist ever discovered the secret of the stars or sailed an uncharted land, or opened a new doorway for the human spirit.

Helen Keller

Persistence

Failure is expected, even embraced, as engineers work to optimize the solution to a particular challenge. Engineering – particularly engineering design – is an iterative process. It is not about trial and error. It is trying and learning and trying again.

Henry Petroski portrait

...every new failure – no matter how seemingly benign – presents a further means toward a fuller understanding of how to achieve a fuller success.

Henry Petroski
in To Forgive design: Understanding failure

Systems thinking

Our world is a system made up of many other systems. Things are connected in remarkably complex ways. To solve problems, or to truly improve conditions, engineers need to be able to recognize and consider how all those different systems are connected.

Ban Ki-Moon portrait

Saving our planet, lifting people out of poverty, advancing economic growth... these are one and the same fight... Solutions to one problem must be solutions for all.

Ban Ki-Moon
image by ITU Pictures

Conscientiousness

Engineering has a significant ethical dimension. The technologies and methods that engineers develop can have a profound affect on people’s lives. That kind of power demands a high level of responsibility to consider others and to consider the moral issues that may arise from the work.

Anita Borg portrait

If we want technology to serve society rather than enslave it, we have to build systems accessible to all people - be they male or female, young, old, disabled, computer wizards or technophobes.

Anita Borg

Collaboration

Engineering successes are built through collaboration and communication. Teamwork is essential. The best engineers are willing to work with others. They are skilled at listening to stakeholders, thinking independently, and then sharing ideas.

Alexander Graham Bell portrait

Great discoveries and improvements invariably involve the cooperation of many minds. I may be given credit for having blazed the trail, but when I look at the subsequent developments I feel the credit is due to others rather than to myself.

Alexander Graham Bell