Although every organization is unique, nearly all of them share a core approach that is based in one, single field: Engineering.

Consider this simple definition of engineering:

Engineering combines the fields of science and maths to solve real world problems that improve the world around us. What really distinguishes an engineer is his ability to implement ideas in a cost effective and practical approach. This ability to take a thought, or abstract idea, and translate it into reality is what separates an engineer from other fields of science and mathematics.

Pretty much everything we do in managing organizations is driven by the idea that we can sit down and take abstract thoughts and translate them into reality in order to “improve the world,” which from an organizational perspective means to maximize value. Strategic planning, organizational structure, all of human resources–these have all been engineered, where we work in the abstract to manipulate resources in order to maximize value.

So is this a problem? Well, sort of. We have definitely accomplished a lot with this engineering approach. Just look at the growth over the last 100 years. It’s staggering compared to the rest of human history, and honestly I think we mostly have engineering to thank for that. But amidst that success, we have always been failing to really address the issues of the human beings inside our organizations. Humans don’t like to be manipulated as “resources,” and the idea of maximizing value is great in the abstract, but in real, complex systems, it tends to generate conflict and challenge sustainability. Engineering is awesome, but inherently limited. That’s why problems like employee engagement never go away.

There are, however, organizations that are pioneering a new approach. They don’t abandon engineering (don’t throw the baby out with the bath water), but they have learned to put it second. You can find examples of these organizations here and here.

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Jamie Notter