Creativity for Survival


It is 2020. Knowledge management and information gathering dominate the world. Therefore, he who owns and controls information is king. Globalization has made labor cheaper and abundant. Yet, the critical assets are inno-thinkers. They are the lifeblood of society.

With the majority of engineers coming from China and India in 2020, American companies lose their innovative edge in the marketplace. Many historians point to 2008 when US engineering schools did nothing to wave off the international threat. Some hoped things would change. Yet, the future remains uncertain for engineering in America.

As America marches to a different drummer, it finds there is an impending danger ahead. While globalization has become a menacing threat to some businesses, the major challenge for traditional academic institutions is to produce engineers who are intelligent, creative, and internationally savvy to handle the challenges of the 21st century. However, only 2% of the general public associate engineering with creativity according to Harris Poll sponsored by the American Association of Engineering Societies and IEEE-USA. In managerial decision-making, creativity involves the ability of a manager to discover novel ideas as possible alternative courses of action for the organization to use in solving a particular problem.

The lack of creativity by today’s engineers becomes critical as more businesses look for technical workers for the future workforce. According to a survey conducted by Peter D. Hart Research Associates, 63% of American business leaders said college graduates are not prepared for the global environment. From a market-oriented perspective, organizational leaders must be concerned with the present downward trend of American engineering schools in producing innovative students.

 Academia must overcome several potential barriers that when transforming engineering schools to centers of innovation.  Currently, there are 346 universities approved by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET), the national organization that sets standards for engineering schools. Although scientists and engineers make up only 5% of the United States population, they generate up to 50% of the Gross Domestic Product.

Sadly, fewer American students are earning degrees in engineering and science. This situation is creating a national crisis for businesses looking for innovation and creativity from the nation’s finest.

In 2004, the United States graduated roughly 70,000 undergraduate engineers while other countries such as China (600,000) and India (350,000) were graduating more engineers. Traditionally, educators attribute the high attrition rate of individuals leaving engineering majors to their inability to cope with the intrinsic hardness of technical majors and do not view it as a major problem.

However, criticism of faculty pedagogy, together with those of curriculum design and student practices, constitutes the largest group of problems for students leaving technical majors.

Demographic changes also continue to shape the realities of engineering schools. Non-traditional universities are leveraging diversity as a competitive advantage while many traditional schools are not.

Thus, the demographic changes of more women, minorities, and low income students have created social pressure on engineering schools to find other pipeline sources than the traditional sources.

In order to the fierce realities of globalization, engineering schools need to shift their strategy toward a creativity focus. Technological and cultural influences are demanding new creative solutions. Many institutional leaders operate engineering schools in a manner that suggests that innovation happens by chance. Michael Michalko, author of Thinkertoys, argues that creativity is not an accident. In fact, it must be an organization intention to foster creative-thinking strategies.

Many times engineering students lose sight of creativity and focus solely on the technical aspects of engineering. A liberal arts education provides an exchange of fresh ideas and an expansion of the creative mind.

Researcher Gary Berg argues that higher education needs to balance applied and liberal arts curricula in order to be effective. Therefore, a new approach to learning is needed in engineering schools. In tomorrow’s universities, collaborative building will be in high demand.

Unfortunately, many times faculty members discourage engineering students from acquiring a broader educational experience. Therefore, engineering schools become a place where students are inhibited from growing creatively.

Twenty-first century leaders in engineering departments must address the needs of students in becoming creative if they hope to take advantage of future opportunities in hypercompetitive environments. Some people wonder if these schools can change.

What challenges and obstacles prevent traditional institutions from producing creative engineers? How do domestic universities transition themselves into incubators of multinational innovation?

© 2011 by Daryl D. Green

18 thoughts on “Creativity for Survival

  1. Traditional institutions need to evaluate the professors and instructors used to teach engineering students. UT Knoxville is a prime example, it continues to hire professors under research pretenses and then those individuals do not take the teaching portion seriously. I know of several students who left the engineering field because of frustration with faculty and lack of mentors and information needed to be successful. Therefore the United States is losing potential engineers who are not only creative but who could become highly competitive in the global economy. In addition, both traditional and non-traditional institutions should focus on recruiting and educating American students as a lot of international students tend to receive training and then return to their home countries.
    Companies now have to pick up the slack in trying to encourage students to pursue engineering degrees. Exxon Mobile is now in its 8th year in hosting “Introduce a Girl to Engineering” program. “Company employees will host students in various activities designed to encourage careers in engineering”. This even targets middle-school students and focuses on math, science, engineering and technology (Business Wire, 2011).

    Works Cited
    Business Wire. (2011, 2 21). Business. Retrieved 2 21, 2011, from

  2. Where would the music industry and movie industry be if the requirement to produce creative works were tied to degrees from traditional educational institutions? Industry must learn what Hollywood and Motown Records identified over thirty years ago that creative talent is abundant but it takes leadership with vision to focus and harness mass creativity and talent. Our domestic traditional institutions are tightly focused on cookie cutter engineering skill sets that do not fit the highly diverse business needs of the global economy. Education institutions need to broaden the development of the effectiveness domain skills such as valuing, organizing and internalizing values as well as the psycho-motor skills of perception and adaption. Identifying problems and solutions are one thing but the ability to execute and adapt are core survival skills in any economy. Our institutions must recognize, internalize and reward the development of such skills.

  3. The K-12 educational system must be re-engineered to cultivate science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) proficiency. Innovative STEM education can’t begin at the college level. Lindsey Burke and Jena Baker McNeil point out multiple weaknesses in the Obama “Educate to Innovate” initiative. “America needs a real solution to the challenges in STEM education, one that fosters interest in the subjects from an early age and builds a strong base of STEM-educated citizens”. (Burke and McNeill). Obstacles to promoting STEM education include: inability to recruit quality educators, fixation on the traditional school model, limitations for parents to make school choices, and a one-size-fits-all approach to standardized testing. The national standardized test scoring is “a significant federal overreach into states’ educational decision-making authority, and will likely result in the standardization of mediocrity, rather than a minimum benchmark for competency in math and English”. Applying a blanket approach to standardized competency scores undermines innovation in STEM education. Universities educators should re-design engineering curriculum to include cross disciplines that foster creativity (not just the hard science) for those students who have been developing STEM skills during the previous 12 years of education.
    (Burke, L. and McNeil ,J). Retrieved on February 21, 2011.

      • The government has poured lots of money into education, yet proficiency scores continue to go down. The government programs have failed to establish educator proficiencies that would allow us to remove teachers who do not teach. “No Child Left Behind”, and Head Start programs have not improved proficiecies, just lowered the standards. Parents should have choices, based on competitive programs and not be directed by government mantra about improving unsuccessfully the education system in our country.

  4. A pretty smart man once said, “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

    Creativity is what drives individuals to success and not just fitting in or even falling behind. In a recent Newsweek article Bronson states the potential consequences of less creativity are sweeping. The necessity of human ingenuity is undisputed. A recent IBM poll of 1,500 CEOs identified creativity as the No. 1 “leadership competency” of the future. Yet it’s not just about sustaining our nation’s economic growth. All around us are matters of national and international importance that are crying out for creative solutions, from saving the Gulf of Mexico to bringing peace to Afghanistan to delivering health care. Information overload does not give us anytime to be creative.


    Article from Facebook by ImagiPLAY Toys retrieved on 2/21/11 from:

    Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman in a Newsweek article retrieved 2/21/11 from:

  5. “For the first time, research shows that American creativity is declining. It is the scores of younger children in America- from kindergarten through sixth grade- for whom the decline is “most serious” (Bronson & Merryman, 2010).
    The blog focuses on this being an issue that we see with college graduates and the lack of those pursuing engineering degrees. I however, relate very much with the Newsweek article. I believe this issue begins in our first years of school. Looking back, my most influential teacher made me excited about science in the 4th grade; so excited in fact, that I was a math/physics major until my 3rd year of college when I began to get professors that I literally couldn’t understand. To this day, my dream job is working for NASA.

    It’s too late to fix this at the college level; we need to attack it at the root, primary school, by making students excited about math and science. Excited students become more engaged furthering their chances of continuing to expand their knowledge on these subjects and ultimately, choosing those fields as life long careers.


    Bronson, Po & Merryman, Ashley. July 7, 2010. The Creativity Crisis. Newsweek.

      • I believe we are dealing root cause versus symtoms. However, like with a tree, roots go in multiple directions, some deeper than others. When we are young, often our parents are as well. They are furthering their careers and trying to support a young household. They don’t always have the available time to spend with their children to encourage/ stregthen their creativity. In addition, technology has advanced greatly. Children spend many more hours in front of the T.V. and/or video games. They are no longer outside playing make believe with other children. Their make believe is now provided for them. Lastly, teachers don’t spend the time required to build creative lesson plans needed to engage their students. To me these are all root causes which have led to the lack of creativity in our coming up generations.

  6. In time of change and shift we find ourselves moving slower in the creative aspect. Engineering students themselves have complained of this in the past and therefore find they are unable to compete in the outside world. Their lack of preparation in their field which focuses on the use of creativity has affected many students in pursuing their degrees. According to research potential engineering students have voiced their concern “If creativity is so central to engineering, why is it not an obvious part of the engineering curriculum at every university?” This issue begins to arise early on in an engineer’s career way before they are even ready to go out in the world and compete. If engineers require all this need in their curriculum why is it being made difficult to offer? “The nature of these phases, in turn, largely defined the perception and implementation
    of creative thinking in engineering education.” It is sad to say that the U.S. has not been able to keep up with this development over the years.

    Kazerounian, Kazem & Foley, Stephany. (2007, July) “Barriers to Creativity in
    Engineering Education: A Study of Instructors and Students Perceptions.” Retrieved from:

  7. I believe the universities are pushing the students thru and not applying real world applications to their studies. Therefore when they hit the work force (internships) the school is setting the work force up for failure because they are expecting them to learn their critical skills from “OJT” (on the job training). When it all comes down to the bottom line of helping our nations to get our engineers back on track, I have to agree with President Vest, Charles of MIT;
    “My primary advice regarding engineering education is that making universities and engineering schools exciting, creative, adventurous, rigorous, demanding, and empowering milieus is more important than specifying curricular details. As we develop the concept of a new curriculum and new pedagogy and try to attract and interest students in nanoscale science, large complex systems, product development, sustainability, and business realities, we must resist the temptation to crowd the humanities, arts, and social sciences out of the curriculum.”

    1. Vest, C. M. (2005). Educating engineers for 2020 and beyond. Engineering educators must tap into students,
    2. Rimer, R. (2011, January 18). Study: students slog through college, but don’t gain much critical thinking. The Seattle Times,

  8. Most traditional institutions are maintaining a dated style of teaching young engineers. The students learn the math and critical thinking skills, but are not being taught how to use them for more creative purposes. The scarcity of engineering opportunities due to outsourcing and human capital cutbacks, influence some engineering students to change educational paths. For example, in a recent Wall Street Journal article, Joe Light reports that some software companies are being forced to outsource or hire inexperienced workers to meet their design needs. In turn, this indicates that there are not enough engineers graduating in the U.S (Light, 2011). Engineers should be considered the creative catalysts for companies.

    Institutions must instill the idea of creativity in conjunction with core engineering disciplines. Domestic universities must recognize that many students have the potential to work anywhere in the world. In fact, many of these students may be exchange students who will return to their home country. If institutions can teach our domestic engineering students to think on a global level, our graduates will have a better opportunity for future success.

    Light, G. (2011, February 17). Labor Shortage Exists in Some Fields. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from

  9. There are great challenges in the current economic condition for traditional institutions in producing creative engineers. One of the biggest challenges is the ability to retain engineers in the US after graduation. Many foreign students are trained and educated here but then return to their native countries to train others and work for domestic or multinational companies in their countries. In the past, domestic universities have not embraced globalization and this may have hampered innovation in the US. The US labor force for engineers must seek to gain a competitive advantage, domestically and globally, in order to retain and develop multinational innovation in the engineering field. The best advantage for the US in the field of engineering is that, “firms surveyed for offshore workers estimated that it took five workers to do the work of three US employees” (Brown, 2009). This trend for offshoring, even though it lowers labor costs, carries additional overhead, reworking of projects, additional management and cost of travel. The reality is that eventually labor costs for these offshore engineers will increase as the workers demand higher wages.

    Brown, Alan S. (2009). A Shift in Engineering Offshore. Retrieved from

  10. “Creativity has always played a big role in humans’ development history. Thanks for creativity; people have had various accomplishments in science, society and art. Nowadays, it is not a hyperbole to say that creativity is the key role for survival in the modern society”. The reasons are the increasing population, globalization and quantity issue of 21st century. Students in the US are majoring less and less in engineering majors for a lot of reason. Few of them I believe are connected to their high school educational systems and their teachers. A lot of high schools in the US don’t require science or engineering classes to be taken to graduate which is very wrong. Engineering classes don’t just teach you formulas and how to calculate but it also teaches you how to think and how to be creative and innovative. The levels of science they take in high school in other countries are superior to the US. That’s why you see a lot of foreign students who come to the US take engineering majors because since they were young they were taught that if you want to be innovative in your society you cannot ignore science and engineering.

    Nguyen, Mai (Dec 7, 09) Is creativity needed more than ever today?. Retrieved from

  11. I agree with Alexis, with many of my friends being engineering students at UT, most of them have found themselves frustrated by tenured professors only concerned with their own research and not on teaching. I’ve heard horror stories of only 25 percent of students passing some engineering courses at UT. It’s too easy for a short-sighted 19 year old to take the easy way out and switch to liberal arts. For gifted engineering students, this creates an opportunity. Employers are now searching for more well rounded individuals to hire. Companies are demanding more out of fewer employees. The 21st century is going to belong to the renaissance man/woman. Globalization has leveled the playing field in many industries, and creativity is vital in order for organizations to gain a competitive advantage and innovative edge. Managers need to recognize and fully utilize the amount of intellectual capital within their organizations. Survival of the fittest now seems synonymous with creativity for survival in the business world.

    Degarmo Group (2010, March 17). Understanding employee creativity: individual and team processes . Retrieved April 17, 2011, from

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