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Are you an Engineer who can think like a Fox?

Work is a juggling act for many engineers with conflicting demands, information gaps and moving goalposts. As a result trade-off’s need to be made, both professionally and personally, but which ones to choose? Being judicious, even wily, is key both to decide and become adapt-ABLE rather than constantly adapt-ING.

1. Accept Uncertainty

A Fox doesn’t waste effort worrying about where her next meal is coming from. She trusts herself. Though the world is less ‘L.A.M.O.’ (Linear, Anthropocentric (human-centred), Mechanistic and Ordered) and more ‘V.U.C.A.’ (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous), we humans are innately change-averse. However, we can deal with uncertainty better if we accept it as the inevitable price of progress and learn to categorise it better, just like its more predictable cousin i.e. Risk. For example, at a project level, we can start by identifying which uncertainty elements are either (i) Time-, (ii) Feedback- or (iii) Progress-dependant and deal with each, accordingly.

2. Venture outside your ‘Comfort Zone’

Identity, in fact, is its own heuristic and the job of the engineer is to fix things and find the “right” answers – or is it? A Fox’s goal is to get the blend right between decisiveness and caution. He isn’t tempted to break things just to prove that they can be fixed. Foxy engineers also expect some wrong turns to reach a solution and bear well the ‘productive discomfort’ of admitting “I don’t know”. They update their beliefs regularly to anticipate the new even within their own well-prowled territories.

3. Take the time to make HeadSpace

It is in the high-stakes situations that engineers tend to stick to their guns and get anchored most by initial impressions. The more experienced, in fact, the more likely any professional will double-down on original assumptions when things don’t go to plan. Foxes, however, don’t get backed into corners too often, even when unexpected situations arise. They allow some scope to explore and before any manoeuvre, they steady themselves, prepared to make incremental adjustments in pace and trajectory as they go.

4. See the Big Picture

Believe it or not, personality type makes seeing the wood for trees much easier for some. Engineers are disproportionately ‘Intuitive’s’ who spot interconnections others easily miss. However, Intuitive-types are also happiest in close-knit groups and within small-medium rather than large companies. A Fox is social too staying close to family but not too cosy in a pack. Engineers, likewise, need to avoid fixed in-group mentalities or risk getting stuck in their ways. Lack of a varied diet of ideas is a slow-track to losing sight of macro-level change when it is best to stay light on their feet,

By the way this picture of a Fox by Limerick artist Clare Hartigan is up for Raffle on https://lnkd.in/eRX6Zc9R in aid of Clare Animal Welfare

Check your own ‘fox-i-ness’ by asking yourself:

· How regularly do I vary my sources of information?

- When did I last seek out data that reality-tested my assumptions?

- What adjacent or peripheral industries/sectors do I keep up to date on?

- When was the last time I challenged myself to learn a new skill/tool?

- What was the last occasion I actively sought out feedback from a customer or stakeholder on the quality of my work?

Stay Stealthy - Tips:

· Identify the data you most need for the decision most needing to be made (not necessarily the data you have to hand)

- Find and quantify the ‘Base Rate’ i.e. likelihood of future events by foraging for comparable (representative) ones -little that happens is random.

- Scavenge for those “early indicators” that reality-test your basic assumptions

- “Watchfully wait” (as in medicine) to identify which are the affordable risks that you can take.

· Detach yourself emotionally in tricky situations – prepare to be wrong and don’t let preferred outcomes bias your judgement on how to proceed.


Finishing well

Foxes are survivors as they've learnt to become robust. They accept their own fallibility and the necessary discomfort both to learn and even, to unlearn. Being ‘wrong’ once in a while isn’t the end of the world and often it's those lessons that are most durable. As foxy engineers, designers and modellers know. the gift of recursiveness is heightened versatility.


Thanks a million for reading. I am a Critical Thinking Coach/Trainer and the Founder of Think4Purpose. We're passionate about supporting STEM professionals grow their soft skills to solve complex problems.


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