Posted by: nedpelger | June 3, 2009

The Arrogance of Engineers

I just read a story about an Engineer/Construction Supervisor who wanted to put some hot water solar panels on the roof of his house. Daniel Hall of Canton, Michigan went to the Township and got approval to put (3) 4′ x 8′ solar hot water panels on his roof. The Home Owner’s Association, then, rejected his application stating the renovation wouldn’t be aesthetically compatible with the rest of the neighborhood. His Township approval included a requirement that his HOA had to also approve.

The article continues: “I will fight,” Hall, 48, said. “I’m weighing my options at this point.” He may go to court or try to have the state legislators pass a law prohibiting Home Owner Associations from restricting solar panels.

Mr Hall has probably thought deeply about the technical merits of his proposed project. I’m sure he’s considered both the savings for his own utility bill and the benefits solar energy capture could provide for his neighbors and fellow countryman. I’m assuming he made the mistake that most engineers and technical people make, though, by focusing too much on the technical and not enough on the relational.

The project has to work, so I’m not advocating any shortcuts on the technical planning. Do what it takes to plan the work well. The arrogance part comes, though, when we expect that technical planning to automatically carry the day to approval. So often, we make the assumption that we are on strong technical ground, so everyone will rally around our technical brilliance.

The reality, though, requires us to work just as hard promoting our project by building relationships and creating strategies for effectively achieving agreement. We need to expand our definition of effectiveness to include not just technical mastery but also the consensus building it takes to get the work approved.

Maslow states, “He who is good with a hammer sees every problem as a nail.” We need to understand that most people aren’t going to appreciate the technical beauty of our solution. Further, more technical explanations aren’t going to win them to our viewpoint. We need to get out of our own skin and look at the issue from another person’s point of view, someone without our background and training.

If you have a challenging problem before you, I’m advocating you always consider the level of arrogance, particularly technical arrogance, that you are exhibiting. You will be more effective, you will more often win, if you strive to look from the point of view of others. The better you know the others, the more accurately you can understand their point of view.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: