Make, Think, Imagine: A book review by Bob Morris

Make, Think, Imagine: Engineering the Future of the Organization
John Browne
Pegasus Brooks (May 2019)

John Browne: How and why “all progress starts with a dream: a vision of a better world.”

Very few people complete a formal education in engineering (B.S. degree through a Ph.D. degree) but Guru Madhavan asserts, In Applied Minds: How Engineers Think, that almost anyone can develop an engineer’s mind-set, one that could create a significant competitive advantage for them. “Engineers help create solution spaces — suites of possibilities that offer new choices, conveniences, and comforts — that redefine our standard of living.” They have developed a mind-set that guides and informs those efforts.

Howard Gardner has much of value to say about multiple intelligences that have almost unlimited applications in what are often viewed as separate and [begin italics] unrelated [end italics] arts and sciences. Madhavan agrees with Gardner: “The engineering mind-set can be applied successfully in every walk of life because its core elements (structure, constraints, trade-offs) and its basic concepts (including recombination, optimization, efficiency, and prototyping, are equally effective in finding solutions to nonengineering challenges. We can see all these aspects converging clearly in the work of one of the most famous film directors of all time, who studied and had a ‘thorough grounding’ in engineering. His early technical training had an important influence on his creations.”

Obviously, the engineer’s mind-set can help to create “suites of possibilities that offer new choices, conveniences, and comforts — that redefine our standard of living.” It can guide and inform those efforts. But there is a higher purpose to which Madhavan refers when suggesting that everyone is an engineer “at some point in the way we design our destinies. That’s why it’s the responsibility of not only engineers, but just about everyone to share the future course of engineering, which is entering an era of new eclecticism. With a shared vision we can create better solution spaces, convert random motions into progress, and improve societal muscle strength to address the complexities of today and tomorrow.”

I mention all this in order to create a context, a frame of reference, for what John Browne has to say about how to engineer the future of civilization Consider these remarks in the first chapter of his latest book: “We all have a deep-seated urge to improve our lives. We want to look after our health and well-being. We want to make the lives of our families better. We want to enhance the future of our nations…The most effective way to do all these things is through engineering; without it, we cannot make progress.” These are eminently worthy objectives. He obviously agrees with Madhavan and I agree with both of them.

There are ten components of the enterprise architecture that Browne proposes and he devotes a separate chapter to each. The world today is more volatile, more uncertain, more complex, and more ambiguous than at any prior time that I can recall. It is therefore imperative, in my opinion, that the multidisciplinary approach of engineering — driven by design thinking at the very highest level — be taken if (HUGE if) we can — in Browne’s words — “rekindle confidence in our ability to make progress, which is what I hope to do in this book.”

Here is what I think is John Browne’s thesis in Make, Think, Imagine: “We need a clear-eyed belief in our power to shape the world for the benefit of all humanity. And that is exactly what engineering will do for us.”

I think he succeeds in stating his case. As to whether or not world leaders will read this book and be guided and informed by it, I have serious doubts. The current occupant of the Oval Office, for example,  reads nothing and the new prime minister residing at 10 Downing Street seems motivated only by his personal insecurities.

I am again reminded of this observation by Thomas Edison: “Vision without execution is hallucination.”



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