The Engineer’s Success Journey – The Power of Embracing Subjectivity

The Engineer’s Success Journey – The Power of Embracing Subjectivity

Like many who go into the field of engineering, most concepts of math and science came relatively easily to me. While I didn’t really find joy in math and science for the sake of it, I did appreciate the objectivity of the subjects. There was always a “right” answer, or so it seemed during my early days of schooling.

This was in contrast to what I viewed as subjective endeavors like writing, art, and other “creative” courses where I thought I would be graded and judged based on an opinion rather than an objective truth.

Eventually I got into engineering because I thought it was how I could leverage my natural inclination towards math/science to make cool stuff. That worked out, but it hasn’t been as straightforward as I hoped it would be.

It has taken me a long time to realize a hard truth (for me anyway): 

Great engineers must embrace subjectivity.

I thought that my intellect would carry me through any workplace challenges I faced.

I was wrong.

As an example: A few years ago I landed a role that had elements I was completely unfamiliar with. Market development, sales, building a nonexistent team, and charting a course for product development to connect with a new segment of customers. To put it frankly, I failed. No one told me I did or helped me understand what I could have done better, but I got gently moved off of that initiative and into a different role. 

For a while I spent time blaming everything else for the failure – my leaders, lack of resources, working with a market that wasn’t there, blah, blah, blah. The truth is, I was hoping someone was going to come and give me the answer to the test, or it was just going to make itself known to me. That didn’t happen.

Things in my career I was dealing with were subjective, not objective. There wasn’t an answer key. I was interacting with people that had opinions on my work, the products I was designing and sharing with the world, and more.

The lesson I learned: People are complicated.

To lead them, develop products for them, and deliver services to them, we have to care about the different things that make each person unique. The right answer for one person isn’t always the right answer for the next. That is okay.

Developing new technological and scientific innovations is much more than solving for the right answer on a test. We have to develop people to create solutions that are used by people. The world is increasingly becoming more and more automated. All the more reason for us to embrace and develop the characteristics that make us uniquely human in ourselves and those we lead.

It’s not usually an easy process, but is anything worth doing really that easy?

Embrace the subjectivity, and see your creativity and success soar!

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