My good friend Bob Landman, a veteran electronic design engineer of fibre optic systems, was somewhat sceptical when advice came from a ‘so-called simpleton’. He was faced with a rather intractable design issue - he needed 850nm lasers to work on a data comms project, but did not have the required 850nm photodiodes to mate with them. His wife, lacking engineering know-how, suggested the photodiodes which Bob did have on hand - 1310nm! He originally laughed this off as it didn’t make initial engineering sense (wrong spectral response).

After some initial thought and with a growing sense of frustration, however, he tried her solution. It worked perfectly with no data errors in the BERT test. A most satisfying outcome. And of course the advice was considerably cheaper than hiring a consultant. In Bob’s case, it was simply a dinner out for his wife. There was a bonus too; he'd proved the circuit worked so did not have to wait for FedEx to deliver the 850nm photodiodes - he could take the rest of the day off.

Other ways of working with complex engineering systems, according to Rutan (of SpaceShipOne fame with privately financed space flights) are:
•Work in small groups
•Choose your design team on the basis of engineering passion: "for the fire in their eyes, not their grades."
•Don’t be risk averse when trying solutions - work with speculation
•Avoid government support - the rules and red tape often stifles innovation
•Use the next generation. - many of the first great airplane designers were children and teens (1908 to 1912)
Naturally, as the famous Roman orator, Cicero, pointed out; at the end of the day advice is judged by results, not intentions.

Yours in Engineering Learning

Steve