Doing Work the Way We Always Have Discourages Creativity

My view on how to learn from others in order to find our own solutions

16 March 2015

Photo: IEEE

As I was skimming my Twitter feed, I came across a quote posted by @IEEEorg from Gary Kildall, the inventor of the Control Program for Microprocessors, the first commercial system to allow a microprocessor-based computer to interface with a disk storage unit. He said: “You need to study other people’s work. Their approaches to problem solving and the tools they use give you a fresh way to look at your own work.”

That’s my philosophy too. When I look at my own career path and the work I do today, it is all because of what I’ve learned along the way from others, whether in previous jobs or from my bosses, teachers, peers, and even strangers.

During the first five years of my career, I was lucky to have worked under John Avdos, a brilliant engineer from Greece who started his own company, Nael Establishment, in the United Arab Emirates. It ended up being one of the largest energy and electromechanical engineering companies in the region. I met him during the summer of 1988 when I was just a senior in college. From him, I learned the most valuable career lesson of all: to copy him. When I saw how happy clients were with his work, I found no good reason not to follow in his footsteps.

What was special about John was that he was able to understand his customers’ wants and he would make them happen. He respected their opinions and took them into consideration when delivering the project. It’s been 20 years since I’ve worked with him but he taught me a life lesson that remains in the work I do today.

Believing that we should do our work the way we always have—and stick to what we once learned when we were in school—is a detriment to our creativity. Creativity is all about seeing things from different perspectives and being flexible in thought. It helps us develop and elaborate on ideas and perhaps even allow us to go in a direction that no one has gone in before. This is what I call “genius thinking.”

When I started my first business back in 1998, I opened a design and construction company similar to John’s and took many of the lessons he had taught me to this endeavor. At the same time, I tried to push my limits and learn from others who were running their businesses in order to expand the possibilities for my company’s growth. As a result, these strategies landed me many new clients and projects over the years.

Some of these ideas included adopting technical standards, which helped me beat out some of my competition, while others were as simple as developing a brand and a logo—which, believe it or not, was not such a common practice back then.

Although some of my ideas were costly for a small business like mine, I learned a lot from applying them in my work. And launching a product or starting a business is all about learning. However, sometimes we can learn and borrow from what others are doing instead of having to fall flat or make mistakes that can make or break our careers.

Qusi Alqarqaz is an IEEE senior member who works as an electrical engineering designer and consultant. You can find more posts by him on his blog.

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