Developing Creativity

How to Cultivate Innovation in Civil Engineering

How can design thinking lead civil engineers to creative problem-solving.

 Article 

Habits of Creative Civil Engineers

Winston Churchill, renowned for his succinct and eloquent statements, once noted, “The most important thing about education is appetite. Education does not begin with the university, and it certainly ought not to end there.”

If we agree with Churchill, appetite for learning is key to one’s search for truth and knowledge. This is as important today as it was in the past. Today, with a greater amount of information now available, an appetite for learning is not enough. We must also approach our lifelong education with a sense of creativity.

  Video  

From Obstacles to Innovation

George Hawkins, DC Water’s CEO and general manager, discusses how DC Water has found innovation through obstacles.

  Article  

Tips on Innovation

Contestants from ASCE’s Innovation Contest offer these tips to satisfy the growing demands of evolving societies.

  Article  

Cultivate Innovation at Your Company

Ten concrete examples to help you bring innovation to your office.

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Innovation in the Workplace

  • 1.  Innovation in the Workplace

    Posted 05-20-2019 21:42
    How do folks approach innovation in the workplace?

    As young engineers, we see opportunities all around us. We want to try out new ideas, new technologies, and innovate on how we do things. Are your companies receptive to innovation? If so, how have they encouraged you to try new ideas? If not, what do you think is the biggest roadblock in innovation? Do you have any specific examples?

    I work for a government entity and it is often difficult to utilize the latest and greatest technologies. But I've seen, through patience and a little creativity, there are many opportunities to innovate and make progressive change. For me personally, moving data from Excel spreadsheets into a robust database seemed like a good idea. It took a lot of patience and finesse but I was able to get it done. It took time for people to get on board with the new idea but now folks are happy with the end result.

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    Paul Lee, P.E., M.ASCE
    Civil Engineering Associate
    Los Angeles Dept. of Water and Power
    Los Angeles CA
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  • 2.  RE: Innovation in the Workplace

    Posted 05-21-2019 10:12
    How do folks approach innovation in the workplace? As young engineers, we see opportunities all around us. We want to try out new ideas, new technologies, and innovate on how we do things. Are your companies receptive to innovation? If so, how have they encouraged you to try new ideas? If not, what do you think is the biggest roadblock in innovation? Do you have any specific examples? 
    Innovation proliferates through all aspects of day to day thinking to maximize the impact of our careers. As a private consultant, innovation is a major tenant in how we sell our services, but innovation for engineering projects goes beyond management, planning, design, and construction. It includes seeking ideas to obtain funding for a project, integrating sustainable green practices, improving community mobility and lifestyles, incorporating community heritage and placemaking features, developing educational programming for students, developing professional relationships in professional organizations, and becoming a leader in the community. Furthermore, innovation means elevating our work environment in a vibrant and appealing way to improve employee retention and boost morale.

    Innovation in the engineering business world encompasses:
       Critical thinking to improve efficiency
       Identification and coordination of software/hardware
       Research project and university outreach
       Hospitality to new employees and renewal of the on-boarding process
       The huge task of Social Media connectivity
       Developing a solid internship or high school job shadowing opportunity
       Coordinating mentorship within the company
       Bargain hunting for office perks that encourage a fun and attractive work place
       Getting out there to take photos that showcase the impact that we create as engineers
       Developing any creative ways to connect our resources between offices
       Coordinating the celebration of Milestone events
       Setting new daily practices to reduce, reuse, and recycle

    And it also means taking that step to advocate for your ideas and your coworker's ideas in a respectful way by connecting with leadership. Having at least one or two leaders who can help move the ideas forward makes all the difference. Go through those people and your good ideas will spread. Do not just write emails about your thoughts and send them out. Talk it over with others first, edit your ideas, and refine your "ask."

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    Andrew Robertson P.E., PTOE, M.ASCE
    Transportation and Traffic Engineer
    Kansas City, MO
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  • 3.  RE: Innovation in the Workplace

    Posted 05-21-2019 12:04
    Hi Paul. First, congratulations on having some success with innovation inside your department! Even little changes are important.

    I have spent most of my career in private industry. Innovation was encouraged as a rule, but there are always constraints you have to work within. There are hard constraints like legal and regulatory matters. Then there are subtle or flexible constraints like culture, organizational structure, role assignments. Four things I found were essential: 1. Perform your official job first, as flawlessly and exceptionally as you can. Don't give people any reason to doubt your commitment and performance with that. That includes being a professional and pleasant coworker. 2. Win the support or "ear" of an executive sponsor or mentor. The higher up the chain the better. You need "top cover" support and guidance. 3. Build connections with other innovators within your organization. Building a tribe of allies and advisors is priceless. 4. Learn and apply Lean Startup principles. Key concepts are safe to fail, minimum viable product, active listening, and identifying critical assumptions that need testing. By applying these principles within Boeing, we implemented 3-D printing, internal crowdfunding, many new business ventures, tool and process improvements, and dedicated employee innovation spaces.

    Now that I work in state government (your state!) I am adjusting to a very different culture and CONOP here. Plenty of opportunity for innovation, that's for sure. I have had to adjust my expectations in a big way. I would like to learn more about your efforts and how you are navigating through the innovation process there. How about we talk offline?

    Thanks,

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    Brett Hoffstadt EIT,A.M.ASCE
    Folsom CA
    (916)845-8347
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  • 4.  RE: Innovation in the Workplace

    Posted 05-22-2019 06:40
    ​In the US Department of Transportation, we recognize the need/importance of a "culture of innovation". If a "Culture of innovation" does not exist in an organization, it is more challenging to identify and implement innovation. Our senior leadership embraces and encourages innovation. "Innovation" has been incorporated into our Strategic Plan as one of our 4 "Strategic Goals". To implement that Strategic Goal, we have various tools/programs such as "Idea Hub", "Every Day Counts", etc. More can be found on our public websites. As an employee, I sincerely believe our agency encourages and embraces innovation and provides a welcoming environment. I also believe Innovation is not as simple as having a good idea and expecting everyone to jump on board. It requires persistence to build support and implement. A valuable employee is one who has good ideas. A more valuable employee is one that makes it happen.

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    Michael Avery P.E.,M.ASCE
    Associate Division Administrator
    FHWA
    San Juan PR
    (202)258-3615
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  • 5.  RE: Innovation in the Workplace

    Posted 05-23-2019 18:23
    I totally agree with you. If the leaders of any construction firm aren't open-minded to innovation and modifications, the organization tends to fall behind when it comes to what's really on board in the industry which might affect there productivity as time goes on.

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    Clinton Egbuchulam S.M.ASCE
    Structural engineer
    Owerri

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  • 6.  RE: Innovation in the Workplace

    Posted 05-24-2019 08:50
    Thanks for posting this important topic, I often think of the same question when faced with the challenge of discussing innovation in a government bureaucracy, innovations is viewed as an obstacle by some to the ways things have always been and run. Simple stuff like introducing drones to monitor construction activities and Augment the role of inspectors in hard to reach places or use GoPro cameras in flood prevention testing are considered a hassle and an unwanted ideas. Not to mention more complex solutions to manage design or construction such as new products or software.

    In my work, I guess having too many stakeholders hinder innovation greatly, the fact that there is no bottom line dollars is another reason where there is no interest in change. The government unlike private sector is reactive not proactive, we often look for solutions when a problem has already happened. My office was created post sandy. Signal innovation started post a service meltdown! Funding is another issue. We see less grants for innovation & more for reactionary measures. I don't think I have a solution or a good recommendation. My office innovates locally at our level & we always hope that others would copy or top what we do. We also look at the private sector and work to compete with some of the innovation we see implemented at some firms. I am very curious about what others in the industry have to say.


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    Amen Mukhlis P.E.,S.M.ASCE
    Senior Civil Engineer
    MTA - New York City Transit
    New York NY

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