“The analogy with music is useful because nobody can dispute the fact that there are three types of musician: the composer, the performer and the conductor. Nor can anybody disagree that there are world-famous musicians who are outstanding in one of these three professions without having outstanding talent for either of the other two. If we agree on this, we can separate them and deal with them in their special fields.” Desiderius Orban (1978) What is Art all About?
Engineers may have more in common with artists than they realise.
Young engineers are often stymied by the many career paths available to them. One way to select the best path is to know your strengths. Engineers can excel as specialists (like the first violinist for the MSO), as managers (like the conductor of the MSO) or as a creator or innovator of new goods or services, like a composer. They can also be good at any two and sometimes all three, although this is actually comparatively rare.
Orban points out that being good at all three is what is required to be an excellent artist, which is why very good artists are so few in number. But it’s less of an issue for engineers as they usually work in well organised teams with multiple, often overlapping skill sets.
Specialists are usually the easiest to identify. Attend a conference or review of published technical papers will suggest who they might be. Organisers show up as managers and consulting engineers, especially after the completion of an MBA. Creators (if they are organised) show up on the rich list. If disorganised, their ideas will be consumed by others and they are likely to be impoverished.
All of us have elements of these skills to some extent. The trick is determine your profile and then select a career accordingly. Not only will the engineer do ‘right’ by themselves, they will also achieve the full potential on behalf of the organisations and society they serve.
As an example, the diagram above describes a successful consulting practice with two directors with complementary skills profiles.