5 Reasons the Power of Observation Will Help You In Your Engineering Career

Harnessing the power of observation in our engineering career can boost our success at achieving a career and life of fulfillment exponentially. However, we have to start paying attention to our environment and our aspirations to unlock the doors.

The experiment was simple.  A test group of individuals were asked to watch a short video in which six people, three in white shirts and three in black shirts, stand in a circle and pass basketballs around.  Each viewer was asked to pay attention and count the number of passes of the basketball silently in their head.

At a certain point in the video a man in a gorilla suit struts to the center of the circle, thumps his chest, then struts off camera.  Total time in the video: 9 seconds.  Percentage of people who observed the man in gorilla suit in the video?  Fifty percent.

It seems ludicrous that people would miss such a blatantly obvious thing as a man in a gorilla suit, but they did.  What this Harvard study revealed was that we miss much of what happens around us and worse, we have no ideas we’re missing it.

This simple psychology experiment highlighted for me why the power of observation is so important in one’s engineering career.

Harnessing the Power of Observation

Harnessing the power of observation in your engineering career can help you by:

Determining what to do and what not to do.  When you’re head’s up and the blinders are off, you have a better probability of seeing the path ahead on not only your goals, but projects you’re on as well.  It’s really easy to get so focused on a task that we lose the ability to see the trees for the forest.  While this is good (see item #4 below!), it can also derail you because you never see failure coming your way.  When you’re plugged into your environment at the office you can better see what you need to do to achieve goals and help others.

Enhancing your learning.  When we observe our environment we’re plugged into enhanced learning.  We’re able to gain much more from the on-the-job technical skill learning, development of core skills like communications and empathy, and how to perform at a higher level in our engineering organization.

Getting you out of your subconscious routines.  We all have them, these little scripts running our daily life.  In fact, without them we’d be paralyzed with decision overload before we get out to our work each day!  Where these become a problem in our engineering career is when we fail to observe the scripts that are not helping us.  For example the way we might react with anxiety when we have to attend a networking event or the defensive response we might have when we receive criticism or corrections to our work.  Observe how you react to different occurrences in your engineering career: are you responding the way your successful self would respond?

Helping you focus on other and not yourself.  One of the most important benefits of the power of observation to your engineering career is that it will direct your focus to others and away from yourself.  As engineers we serve others: our clients, customers, our peers and colleagues, our boss, our people that work for us, and the public at large in some way.  By observing all of these people around us we can better hear what they are telling us and this will boost our ability to deliver what they need.  

Leading you to focus on your ONE thing.  By far the power of observations greatest benefit to your engineering career will be the ability for you to observe what is most important to achieving your career of fulfillment, and then going after it full-bore.  When we’re not observing the environment around us or our own aspirations in our engineering career, we lack focus.  We have multiple things in motion or worse, we just sail along like a cloud in the sky.  Through the power of observation, however, we have the ability to read the environment in our industry and our engineering organization, as well as our aspirations, then design the career we want to inhabit.

Ask yourself today these questions in order harness the power of observation to boost your engineering career:

What scripts do I have running in my engineering career that aren’t serving me?  How might I adjust them so that they do help me?

What is the environment in which my engineering career exists?

What are my aspirations about my engineering career?  Where do I want to be in 10 months?  10 years?  At the end of my career?

Christian Knutson, P.E., PMP is an international infrastructure development program manager, engineer, and author. He has extensive experience in leadership, management, and engineering earned from a career as a civil engineering officer in the U.S. Air Force.  Knutson understood early in his engineering career the importance core skills like communications, relationships, and goal setting play in an engineer’s career, using them to great effect.  He now coaches engineers enabling them to create an engineering career and life of fulfillment at The Engineering Career Coach.

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