Innovation in engineering is key to staying competitive in today’s highly diverse market. But innovating often requires taking risks- engineers must be willing to push the boundaries of what is possible and explore new technologies and their applications. But taking risks in engineering design can feel dangerous, after all what if it fails?
Taking risks is essential for achieving innovation and success in any field, whether it’s engineering, business, or personal development. It’s tempting to feel that taking risks is only worth it when you win. In this article we’ll explore why taking risks, even when they result in failure, can lead to long-term success.
It’s easy to say “it’s worth it to take risks” when you win.
But it’s worth it to take risks when you lose too.
The Risks of Not Taking Risks
Many organizations view failure as a negative outcome, but it can also be a valuable learning opportunity. Failure can teach us important lessons about what works and what doesn’t and help us avoid making the same mistakes in the future. Failure can also build resilience and the ability to adapt to change, which is essential in today’s rapidly changing world. Taking risks opens up new possibilities for future success and avoids the bigger risks of inaction and stagnation. Engineers should also create a culture within their organization that supports taking risks. Encourage open communication and a willingness to try new things.
Stagnation in engineering design is a killer for business innovation. Companies and industries that play it safe and don’t take risks can find themselves stuck with outdated technology and unable to compete with more innovative competitors. This can result in designs that are less efficient, less cost-effective, or less environmentally friendly. A few famous examples include:
- Kodak: Kodak was once a leading player in the film and photography industry, but the company initially dismissed the digital photography revolution. Kodak had the technology to develop digital cameras as early as 1975, but they failed to invest in it, preferring to stick to their core business of film cameras. As a result, other key competitors released digital cameras that took off, leaving film forever behind.
- Blockbuster: Blockbuster was once the dominant player in the video rental industry, but the company failed to take risks and adapt to the rise of streaming services. Blockbuster had the opportunity to acquire Netflix, a then-small startup, in for around $50 million in 2000 but passed on it. At the time Netflix offered mail-order DVD rentals, but over time as streaming services rose to dominance Netflix pivoted to an online streaming model and took the streaming market by storm. As a result the physical rental store model waned and combined with other factors (such as pop-up rental kiosks like RedBox) Blockbuster ended up filing for bankruptcy in 2010.
- Nokia: Nokia, once the dominant player in the mobile phone industry, maintained a large but stagnant portfolio of mobile devices. As early as the mid-90’s Nokia had the opportunity to develop smartphones but focused on feature phones which were the dominant tech at the time. New competitors like Apple entered the market with more advanced devices which aimed to provide the full internet experience on the device; Nokia’s response was slow and market share fell dramatically while other competitors (like Samsung with Android) pivoted to follow Apple’s iPhone model; Nokia was eventually acquired by competitor Microsoft and later sold to a private investment firm, giving up on the mobile phone business altogether.
The Benefits of Taking Risks, Even When They Result in Early Failure
Many people view failure as a negative outcome, but it can also be a valuable learning opportunity. Failure can teach important lessons about what works and what doesn’t to help avoid making the same mistakes in the future (assuming results are documented and periodically reviewed). Failure can also build resilience and adaptability, which is essential in today’s rapidly changing world.
3 simple steps to documenting a design failure
… and learn from it
- Gather Information on the Failure: The first step in documenting reasons for a failure in engineering design is to gather all relevant information about the failure. This includes information such as the design drawings, calculations, specifications, test data, and any other relevant documents. This could also include conducting interviews with individuals involved in the design, testing, and operation of the failed component or system.
- Analyze the Information for a Root Cause: Once all relevant information has been gathered, the next step is to analyze the information to determine the root cause of the failure. This includes reviewing the design and testing data, comparing the design and testing data to the relevant codes and standards, and identifying any inconsistencies or deviations from the design intent.
- Document the Root Cause Findings: After the root cause of the failure has been determined, the final step is to document and communicate the findings. This includes creating a detailed report that documents the failure, the root cause, and any recommendations for improvements. The report should be communicated to relevant stakeholders, so the team can learn from the result.
Taking risks can open up new possibilities for future success and avoiding the risks of inaction and stagnation, instead leading to breakthroughs and advancements. Engineers leverage curiosity to explore new scientific methods and technologies and come up with new and improved ways of solving problems, and every failure you can learn from is one more discovery to add to your knowledge.
Strategies for Effectively Managing Risk
Of course, taking blind risks may be difficult for an organization that has a lot to lose. For this situation, effective risk management is essential. Risk management is a method for systematically identifying risk associated with a design, and developing a plan for managing and mitigating each of those risks. In this way, it’s a method for engineering risk out of a project plan.
By taking a strategic and systematic approach to risk management, companies (and individuals) can increase their chances of success while minimizing the potential negative consequences of failure.
Simple Risk Management Strategy:
- Identify potential risks: The first step in managing risk in engineering design is to identify all potential risks that may be associated with the project. This includes identifying risks related to the design itself, as well as risks related to the project’s environment, such as safety risks, environmental risks, and regulatory risks.
- Evaluate potential risks: Once potential risks have been identified, the next step is to evaluate the likelihood and impact of each risk. This includes assessing the likelihood that the risk will occur and the potential impact that it could have on the project if it does occur.
- Develop a risk management plan: With the potential risks identified and evaluated, the next step is to develop a risk management plan. This plan should outline the steps that will be taken to manage and mitigate each identified risk, including the allocation of resources and the development of contingency plans if something falls through. Don’t forget contingency plans for unanticipated risks too!
- Implement the risk management plan: With the risk management plan in place, the next step is to implement the plan. This includes taking the necessary steps to manage and mitigate the identified risks, as well as monitoring the progress of the project to ensure that the risk management plan is effective. Ongoing monitoring and review of progress is essential to ensure that it remains effective throughout the project. This includes monitoring the project’s progress and making any necessary adjustments to the risk management plan as the project progresses.
- Communicate and share the risk management plan: Risk management is the entire team’s job and communication might be the hardest part of it. It is important to communicate and share the risk management plan with all project stakeholders. This includes sharing information about identified risks, the steps that are being taken to manage and mitigate those risks, and any changes that are made to the risk management plan over time.
- Continuously improve: As key milestones are achieved and again after the project is finished, it is important to conduct a post-project review to evaluate the effectiveness of the risk management plan and identify any areas for improvement. This will help to continuously improve the risk management process for future projects.
Taking risks in a strategic and calculated manner can be an effective method for taking a chance on something big while reducing the chance of failure. It is important to identify potential risks and implement risk management techniques to minimize the chance of failure.
Taking risks in engineering design is crucial for innovation and staying competitive in the industry. It allows engineers to explore new technologies and materials and come up with new and improved ways of solving problems, resulting in more efficient, cost-effective, and advanced designs. Not taking risks can lead to stagnation in design, losing competitive edge, and missing opportunities.
So get out there and try something crazy! By taking risks in a strategic and calculated manner, engineers can achieve superior results in their designs and stay ahead of the curve in the constantly evolving engineering industry.