Lecturer Pushes the 'Big Picture' for Engineering Leaders
JENNIFER CLAMPET | February 21, 2012 | UNIVERSITY COMMUNICATIONS
As more engineers delve into technology, their eyes permanently fixed onto the intricate designs laid before them, they should stop.
"Look at the bigger picture," said Simon Lorne, the vice chairman and chief legal officer of Millennium Management LLC, a hedge fund management company responsible for more than $14 billion in assets with offices throughout the world.
Engineers have a tendency to lose track of the bigger picture, and they begin to do things that can be done, not things that should be done, Lorne said.
Take, for example, the unveiling of the Boeing 747 in 1970. The massive commercial airplane could shuttle 400 people from Houston to Hong Kong, said Lorne.
The problem was that in 1970, there were not 400 people who wanted to go from Houston to Hong Kong on a Thursday. Then the recession hit. Airlines did not have enough traffic to warrant using the jumbo jets. Many of the planes sat out in Arizona in open fields unused.
But what was the response of engineers?
"Engineers then found modifications that would double the number of passengers that a 747 could carry. The designs never went into production and to this day they have not gone into production," Lorne said during his Feb. 17 visit to The University of Texas at El Paso as part of a College of Engineering lecture series.
Lorne's anecdotes of engineering tunnel vision included in his lecture "Reversing Through the Prism" were enough to receive a few chuckles from attending engineers in the audience.
"What Simon brings to the table is a worldly view of the benefits of thinking beyond engineering problem solving," said Peter Golding, Ph.D, professor of metallurgical and materials engineering at UTEP. "His statements ring true. Engineers need to contribute to the well-being of society."
The UTEP College of Engineering lecture series, "Engineering Leadership for the Conceptual Age," began in September. The series is intended to bring speakers, such as Lorne, to the UTEP campus to address topics at the intersection of society and technology.
In the academic sphere, Lorne is the co-director of Stanford Law School's Director's College – the United States' premiere institution for the education of independent directors of publicly held corporations. Lorne is also a visiting fellow at the University of Oxford Saïd Business School and an adjunct professor at the New York University Law School and the NYU Stern School of Business.
Lorne's push for a society-conscious engineer comes on the heels of an industry wrestling with the world's grand challenges – air quality, water, sustainable lifestyle, and housing and energy sources, Golding said.
"These are all part of a grander challenge which is providing quality of life for our citizens," Golding said.
Putting the pieces back together in the world will require a convergence of science and engineering, Lorne said, borrowing from a paper published out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. But Lorne also stressed the importance of engineers willing and able to venture into business professions.
And as engineering education begins to encompass the concept of preparing business and industry leaders, Lorne stressed the same importance was needed for preparing engineers as "societal leaders in the future."
"Only two U.S. presidents were engineers – Herbert Hoover and Jimmy Carter. And they weren't the greatest," said Lorne. "But maybe that's because they weren't properly trained as to what they were to the bigger picture."
The next lecture in the engineering series is set for noon March 21 at the El Paso Natural Gas Conference Center and will feature Judson King, director of the Center for Studies in Higher Education.
The Engineering Lecture Series is made possible by contributions from Bob and Diane Malone and the Halliburton Foundation.