General Engineering Introduction/Communication/Chickens and C students



The book "Evolution for Everyone by David Sloan Wilson" describes how groups can evolve as well as individuals. For example William Muir of Purdue wanted to increase egg production. For years the strategy was to breed the most productive hens. This resulted in hens murdering each other unless their beaks were trimmed. The new method was to breed the most successful chicken coops. This increased egg production. After careful study, it was found that the most productive hens often suppressed egg production by other hens. Happier hens produce more eggs collectively.

Within Group Evolution


Within group evolution is what students need to focus on. This is discussed below. Instructors, project managers, clients and employers of engineers are interested in group productivity. It is easy for them to identify hitchhikers, couch potatoes, and slackers. It is the extreme performers that are the most difficult to deal with.

Extreme performers


A young engineer solved a huge industry problem within 3 months of being employed. He received a patent. The company he worked for was the assignee (the owner.) Other companies in the industry tried to license the patent, purchase the patent, purchase the company he worked for and others try to hire the young engineer to work on the new, better version of the patent.

The young engineer's salary was when he left to go to the new company. At the new company he repeated the same scenario in area he was not assigned. Another team had been working on the project for several years and had spent lots of money that was being invested in a solution. The young engineer made everyone on the team and even upper level management look bad. He was ostracized, eventually quit and had to start over finding a job. At the end of his career he was was the original inventor on over 40 patents and participated in the creation of another 20 patents. But he still worked alone in small companies.

This young engineer matured into someone that was never wrong, never documented anything, never worked within a team that develops a "we" solution, never built an institution, never helped create a group mind that exists independent of the individuals involved at the moment.

Dealing with the Brilliant


There are huge differences in abilities, gifts and resources among students. Dealing with these is often more difficult than slackers, coach potatoes and hitch hikers.

Within a student team there may be a person that is absolutely brilliant, that can do anything, that makes everyone else listen and watch. These students become the A students that eventually get doctorates, focus on individual research and teach. Start-up, new companies financed by entrepreneurs look for these brilliant people by forming relationships with colleges and the professors. The number of engineers that bounce around start-up companies without getting doctorates is rare. Many brilliant people become entrepreneurs themselves ... and stop being engineers.

C Students


The C students are those that develop the "we" solution, build institutions and help create the group mind. Many engineering projects require lots of engineers working together. There are many more of these types of engineering jobs and they are more stable. Often the A and B students are later hired by the "C" students.

If your team ends up with one of these brilliant engineers, then collectively the team has to:

  • slow him or her down, ask lots of questions
  • repeat what he or she is doing, and ask for help
  • take pictures and video .. chase him or her around, and document what was done