Engineering translation and design thinking

Last night I attended a panel discussion on Smart Medical Devices, put on by the Biomedical Engineering Society.  There was a lot of discussion about the definition of Smart Devices, new technologies (which were very impressive), and ultimately the discussion found its way to pointing out the need for biomedical engineers to act as translators between the engineering and medical communities.

Sound familiar?  This is exactly the type of discussion that goes on in design thinking circles. Just as it's important for designers to understand human needs to design better products, the same is true for designers and engineers who need to understand clinical needs to develop better products and to guide technology development.  What I truly appreciated was the engineers' description of translation.  This is much less confusing than the thought process of a specific discipline.

This should not be surprising. What struck me, however, was the fact that this capability was discussed as something that was necessary, but the problem was in finding engineers who were interested in spending time in the field.  It was suggested that typical engineers would rather develop cool new technologies, and weren't as interested in solving problems in a low-tech way.

In my work, I have never encountered a designer, engineer, or marketing person who was unhappy that I was able to identify the problem that needed to be solved, and present it as criteria that was relevant to them.  However, I have often found that most designers, engineers, and marketing people who work in development processes are much more interested in solving problems than in identifying them.  My main takeaway from this event is that there is a burgeoning frustration with people trying to solve their way to problem identification.  It just doesn't work. 

As I've discussed in many previous posts, problem-solving and problem-posing are very different activities and require different skills.  It's unrealistic to expect a doctor to define the engineering challenge, just as it is to expect the consumer to define your new product breakthrough.  Problem-posers have developed the skill to discern the motivation behind what is said, regardless of what market you are in.  Last night's discussion was yet another highlight of the same issue.