I spent fifteen (15) minutes one morning pounding several pills into powder. The powdered pills are medicinal supplements for my pet cat, to fight against liver ailments.
One of my cats tested for high SGPT, an enzyme when found high in a blood test, indicates problems with the liver. The vet prescribed the cat needed one tablet of liver supplement a day. But since I found it impossible to force feed the cat with a tablet, the vet said it was okay to crush the tablet into powder and mix it with the cat’s food.
The vet gave me the prescription and told me in what form I can give the pills to the cat. She didn’t tell me how to do it. That’s for me to figure out. I used a kitchen hammer to crush the pills, put the powder in a bottle, and sprinkle close to the prescribed dosage on the cat’s food every morning. I crush as many pills I can altogether to avoid having to use the hammer frequently and save time.
The vet prescribed; I administered. The vet tells me what’s needed and I do the work of planning and implementing. And this essentially is a small-scale example of what spells the difference between scientists, doctors, & executives and engineers. The former group formulates; the latter makes it work.
Sometimes, however, the former group of scientists, doctors, and engineers believe engineers aren’t needed in some cases. The former people try to work things out by themselves in the hope of saving time and money by not engaging the latter, the engineers. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.
And when it doesn’t, it can be disastrous.
A beach house in Florida was seen the only one left standing and intact after a hurricane. The owners foresaw the risk of storm surges and invested in a super-strong foundation and superior construction materials. The owners wanted a strong house on soft ground on a beachfront. They invested in engineering to make their house withstand the risks. It paid off as seen from the picture.
Unfortunately for the beach house neighbours, it didn’t turn out so well. They obviously didn’t engage engineers when they built their houses. They lost their homes as a result.
Enterprises & organisations don’t need engineers for every problem. We can agree with that. Many problems can be solved by common sense. Many problems aren’t engineering related. Many are rooted in economic, legal, and personnel issues.
There are problems, however, engineers are in the best position to solve.
When the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared a pandemic stemming from the SARS-Cov-2, popularly known as CoVID-19, political leaders and executives instituted strict health protocols in their respective communities and enterprises. Borders were shut; people were told to stay home; factories were closed; deliveries were delayed.
Shortages happened. Hospitals ran out of supplies such as face masks and personal protective equipment (PPE). Supermarket shelves emptied. Undelivered perishable food was thrown away. Factories didn’t get their materials or didn’t have enough workers to run production lines.
And when vaccines became available. No one figured out how to distribute them. Executives made promises that they couldn’t keep especially when supply ran short. Contracts were broken as national leaders of countries where the vaccines were manufactured decided to keep the limited supply for their own people.
Leaders appointed czars and task forces. But because they were mostly made up of doctors, scientists, politicians, and even soldiers, the appointees could only go as far as making manifestos and policies. There was hardly anyone figuring out the planning and implementation of what these appointees wanted to do.
Leaders and executives probably thought they just needed scientists and a few good managers. They didn’t figure they needed the people who’d have the expertise to set up structures and systems to make their ideas realities.
That’s what engineers do. Make ideas into realities. But many leaders don’t know that or haven’t accepted that.
And that’s how managing the pandemic became one big tragic mess. More than 300 million reported infections. More than 5 million people dead. Billions of dollars and euros spent. Millions of people out of work. Thousands of enterprises closed, some forever. And shortages and disruptions in supply chains continuing.
Scientists make formulae. Executives develop policies. Engineers build and help implement solutions.
In many cases, many leaders deliberately forget the last sentence of the above paragraph. And just like the beach house, the few who do remember are left standing while the others are swept away.