Friday, June 7, 2013

The Most Powerful Idea in the World

The above titled book by William Rosen (and I am still reading it) has set me thinking. As it goes through the industrial revolution (rather, the beginning of it) - it explores as to why the industrial revolution happened when it happened. Rather, how a lot of factors came to play in making it happen. For that alone this book is worth a read. It is worth reading how a 'dotcom' kind of ecosystem existed in England with the combination of tinkerers, rich patrons, correspondence and of course, the right kind of institutions.

When one studies engineering, or even science, what we hear are the rock star stories. For instance, we know that Archimedes had a 'Eureka' moment. Likewise, in this book, I realized how a 'Eureka' moment helped James Watt resolve the problematic steam engine into a workable design.

While it is very romantic to believe that discoveries happen accidentally, the fact remains that somebody like a James Watt (or others) slogged through many many hours, trials and errors before 'stumbling' on that creative insight that makes for a steam engine. And this aspect is missed when is taught engineering. What is engineering today (across any fields) is really the equivalent of a 7 year practice that one had to put in England to earn the title of an 'apprentice'. But of course, only in terms of the time spent - the fact that today engineering is reduced to a collection of formulae, courses, practicals and exams to clear is a travesty to all those people who made 'engineering' possible.

Clearly, there is ample scope to instill a passion in the subject in the engineering which is underutilized. Atleast when I studied. There needs to scope to tinker, make something, create something. Though we did some of it in our workshop sessions, that was barely any tinkering that we did, any creation that we went after. In a nutshell, for being an engineer, very little hands on work we did, if at all.

The fact that any creation is not possible by sitting in an ivory tower. Behind every invention is a story of industriousness, perseverance, creativity, application and quite a few other things like dirt, grime and grit. And every engineer can be a 'creator' in that sense.

And yet, instead of 'job creators' we end up making 'job seekers'.

A 4 year engineering course is about 4000 hours of investment - nearly 40% of the 10,000 hours required to be an expert. And yet, after 4000 hours of the course and allied areas - the student comes up thinking that she does not know much. Another missed opportunity to reinvent almost the entire way we approach education in our country.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Be Civil. Make nice!