Engineers’ problems


    Let me start by saying, I love engineers!! At least half of my friends are engineers and we have multiple businesses that would not be here if it weren’t for engineers. That said, I’m about to make some generalizations, and some of these could get me in trouble with people I care about. If this includes you, please forgive me! 

    Engineers have some problems. I have been working with engineers for 37 years and I’ve seen it all. And these problems impact engineers’ success in business and in their personal lives.

    Here are a few of the problems I am referring to:

    Difficulty making a decision — Engineers too often struggle with this one. There’s never enough information, therefore, it’s deemed best to do nothing. This kills you when you are in business where your clients and employees need answers, or where delays implementing critical strategic initiatives translate into lost opportunities. Many times during my career, an engineer/firm owner — referring to a change we are advocating they make — has asked me, “How many other 27-person MEP firms in Duluth have done this?” That’s ridiculous. Beyond that, it virtually ensures the firm will, at best, be a follower and imitator of another company and not be a leader and innovator.

    Can’t take a risk — We once worked with a company in Oklahoma that was stuck at $20 million in annual revenue for five years in a row. The owners decided in a business planning retreat to commit to a 15 percent revenue growth goal for the coming year. To accomplish that, we suggested they increase both marketing and recruitment spending. One of the engineer/owners was vehemently against that because he said it would be irresponsible to risk the bonus pool doing this. They wanted to grow but were ultimately unwilling to do a single thing differently or take any risk to make it happen. Ridiculous! And I could tell you 100 similar stories.

    Too introverted — You have all heard the joke about how you can tell when an engineer is extroverted: The punchline is that he (or she) looks at your feet when talking to you (versus his/her own feet). That’s sad but true. The problem with introverts is they don’t get out and meet people. Because of that, they may be less likely to have the relationships it takes to solve problems both inside and outside of the organization.

    Tendancy toward passive-aggressive behavior — Passive-aggressive behavior kills productivity and morale for everyone involved. A good example is an engineer who doesn’t like someone else they are working with on a project so they get to a point where they need information from that person and, instead of asking them for it, they do nothing. By the time the project deadline is jeopardized, the problem is discovered. But instead of it being the problem of the engineer who stopped work waiting for information, they turn it into the person’s problem who didn’t voluntarily give them that information. This is ridiculous, of course, but common with engineers.

    Not honest about their feelings — Between being introverted and non-confrontational, one of the biggest issues with engineers is they often aren’t honest about their feelings. This leads to more misunderstandings and problems throughout the organization, with people inside and out. Problem situations don’t ever get resolved without management’s involvement, which sucks time and saps mental energy.

    All of this stuff is real. Certainly — and thankfully — all of these characteristics can be changed. Not to mention, there are certainly many engineers who don’t share these characteristics, and we need more of them! 

    Enjoy the March issue of Civil + Structural Engineer magazine! We’re here for you. If you have any suggestions, questions, or comments, please let me know at Thank you for reading!

    Mark C. Zweig