The Traits and Habits of Creative Civil Engineers

George Crommes, P.E., F.ASCE, joined ASCE in 1962. The Life Member is now retired but is still finding new ways to push the boundaries of his own creativity. As he says, “All my engineering experiences have entailed innovation to solve problems.” In today’s Member Voices, Crommes explains why developing those creative skills and habits are so important in civil engineering and then offers some tips on how you can do just that.

Winston Churchill, renowned for his succinct and eloquent statements, once noted, “The most important thing about education is appetite. Education does not begin with the university, and it certainly ought not to end there.”

Photo of George Crommes

If we agree with Churchill, appetite for learning is key to one’s search for truth and knowledge. This is as important today as it was in the past. Today, with a greater amount of information now available, an appetite for learning is not enough. We must also approach our lifelong education with a sense of creativity.

I have been a licensed professional engineer for over 44 years and an artist for 60 years. It has been my experience that there is something new to learn every day, always. Thinking “outside the box” can be fun, challenging, and invigorating. And efficiency and effectiveness, with positive impacts, follow.

In our daily lives, we all have opportunities to be creative. This is not limited to artists or musicians. It is extremely important for civil engineers.

Most logical thinking and analysis can occur routinely and with a time schedule. However, creative thinking shouldn’t be rushed or scheduled. Creative thinking requires using both sides of our brains (the logical and the creative sides).

Creative people ask questions primarily of themselves, but also of others. They continually evaluate their ideas for simplicity, need, and application in the real world. They are critical of their work and continually try to improve everything they do. They criticize themselves but frown upon criticism by others. This self-criticism helps provide new solutions for existing issues, procedures, and products.

Let’s look at some more traits of creative civil engineers, while also exploring some ways to increase your creative skills.

Traits of Creative Civil Engineers

• Curiosity as to the how, where, why, and why not

• Originality of ideas, thoughts, and concepts

• Fluency of ideas and thought

• Prolific idea makers

• Independence in thought and action

• Self-assertive, independent, and self-reliant

• Sensitivity to beauty, especially in nature (the source of most human inspiration)

• Sensitive to one’s own emotions

• Willing to be different

• Self-motivated

• Uses an active imagination

• Adaptable and flexible in thinking

• Uses intuition to the fullest

• Willing to take risks

Increasing Your Engineering Creative Skills

• Associate with creative people in various fields of work

• Participate in fine arts, music, and other types of creative work

• Develop diverse interests

• Read books and articles to broaden your knowledge of numerous subjects

• Be critical of your own work and define ways to improve

• Request opportunities to do creative and challenging work

• Use diverse creative skills on the job and outside of work

• Ask questions of yourself and questions of people with more knowledge of the subject

• Expand your knowledge and skills, especially in communications

• Study history, especially that of great creative cultures and individuals

• Develop close ties with nature’s beauty and variety

• Set aside quiet times for thinking and creating new ideas

• Be free to make your own decisions

• Use “sketch planning” before initiating any type of plan or work (this only requires paper and pencil)

• Use intuition and imagination (especially important for children in their growing years)

• Engage in activities that draw on both sides of your brain

• Be inquisitive as to why things happen, operate, or are built a particular way

• Discover how things function

• Do some problem solving with teams of creative people

• Emphasize simplicity and safety in ideas for products, plans, procedures, and strategies

• Be aware of the need for improvements

• Gain knowledge by listening to experienced, senior engineers

There are many opportunities for civil engineers to be more creative in their work. Look for these as you progress through your career.


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  1. I really appreciated this article. I myself an engineer, have been on a quest to live a more creative life and I’m on chapter 2 of “The Artist’s Way.” Today I actually wondered to myself if I was wasting my time doing all these writing exercises and then in my inbox received a link to your article in the newsletter. A topic I never would have expected to see on ASCE’s website. I never really thought of how living a more creative life could actually help my engineering but you’ve presented it so simply, how did I not make this connection before. So thank you for affirming some things that have been on my mind recently!

  2. George–like Sonja, I was surprised to see your article published in Civil Engineering magazine–but unfortunately, they edited your original draft, including removing the great Winston Churchill quote that you cited. But I found your original by Googling your name. Others can too. And should.

    Readers might be interested in knowing that Leonardo da Vinci gave similar advice. Isn’t he the best example of an engineer/artist? For example, “Curiosita” is an insatiably curious approach to life and an unrelenting quest for continuous learning. And, “Arte/Scienza” is the development between science, art, logic, and imagination. And finally, “Connessione” is recognizing the interconnectedness of all things and phenomena–or simply, Systems Thinking.

    I’ve been registered for nearly 40 years and an artist for 50. Drop me a line sometime at [email protected]

  3. That was a really nice article! I shared it with all my students!! Thank you very very much for it! Active imagination is great weapon for a civil engineer!!! Completely agree on that!

  4. Anyone here know of organizations that promote innovation and creativity? It seems like unfortunately preach creativity but do not actually encourage it.


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