Dealing With Trade-offs

Engineering is done in black and white; managing, in shades of gray

3 min read

We engineers take great satisfaction in the accuracy of our calculations. But little in the real world is so precise. There are rarely right answers—only trade-offs, the often-messy realm of pros and cons.

Professionals and managers readily consider trade-offs, but engineers tend to be uncomfortable with them. For one thing, our education focuses us on precise, correct answers. Our raison d’être is finding the lowest-cost solution. Finding two acceptable answers seems somehow incorrect, unprofessional, or downright incompetent. Formulas, tests, professional engineer license exams—they all require getting the right answer. I once got a 79 on a structures exam (one of my better grades!), but the professor, seeing my satisfaction, asked me: Would I like to travel across a bridge that was designed 79 percent correctly?

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Asad Madni and the Life-Saving Sensor

His pivot from defense helped a tiny tuning-fork prevent SUV rollovers and plane crashes

11 min read
Asad Madni and the Life-Saving Sensor

In 1992, Asad M. Madni sat at the helm of BEI Sensors and Controls, overseeing a product line that included a variety of sensor and inertial-navigation devices, but its customers were less varied—mainly, the aerospace and defense electronics industries.

And he had a problem.

The Cold War had ended, crashing the U.S. defense industry. And business wasn’t going to come back anytime soon. BEI needed to identify and capture new customers—and quickly.

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