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Like many neighbourhoods in Calgary, the area in which I live is in the process of undergoing a transformation. Older 1950’s bungalows are being bought and re-developed into attached infill homes. Most recently, the house directly across the street from ours underwent this transformation. Having a front row seat to the process described above was interesting in that it highlighted the effort required to create something new. Especially when juxtaposed against the time and effort taken to remove the old home.

When the day came to start the demolition, a two person crew arrived, one with an excavator and the other with a dump truck. Between the two of them the home was leveled and removed literally before our eyes. Within two days what once stood for over half a decade was gone, leaving only a depression in the earth where a foundation had once stood. Over the next several months numerous individuals poured hours of work into building the new homes that were to now occupy this space. However, when the new homes were finished, the nails used to hold the studs together were no stronger on the new house versus the old. The same two person crew that initiated these events could come again and remove this structure within hours, after it took months to create.

Reflecting on this process reminded me that my draw to the profession of engineering was through spending summers on the family farm and witnessing teams of people work together to create solutions to problems that arose on a day to day basis. To witness someone use their imagination and materials available on hand to create something new was inspirational to me. It showed me in a practical sense that without a creative mind, and the effort and experience required to act, an entire process could be halted, after months in the making.

Now working as a professional engineer, the will and effort required to create is necessary on a constant basis. Often times our roles as engineers and designers is to create solutions to problems from materials and equipment that are readily available. To be the bridge between what can be dreamed in one’s imagination and the physical world. To create a solution where none existed before. Through my experience thus far I have witnessed examples as macro as using a water treatment technology from the pulp and paper industry in British Columbia and applying it to SAGD water treatment in Alberta. Or as micro as a commercial office building fire sprinkler pump being sourced to temporarily replace a damaged industrial process pump, allowing an oil and gas facility to be commissioned on time. As the energy industry in Alberta strives to remain competitive on a global stage, what creative solutions can we come up with to continue to thrive? Will we all sit and watch global commodity prices hoping they increase enough that we don’t have to change from the past? Or are we willing to put in the effort it takes to bring innovation to life and maybe create opportunities that did not exist before?

While a lot of the anecdotes above focus on “building” and “construction”, creativity can be fostered and developed in so many different ways. A creative mind, and the work ethic to act on innovative ideas, are valuable assets to our world. I would challenge you to find what it is that allows your imagination to come alive and put in the effort to create. Whether through art, music, literature, sport, science, engineering, or whatever inspires you, find an outlet where your mind can roam free. Put in the effort to explore new ideas and bring them to life.

Written by: Oliver Kohlhammer, P.Eng.

Originally published in LinkedIn.