Friday, August 28, 2015

BBC Radio 4 More or Less, Tim Harford

Some thoughts on thinking like an engineer on BBC Radio 4 show "More or Less" with Financial Times columnist Tim Harford and Charlotte McDonald. (Segment: 15:30 to 22:30)

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Thank you, Discover.

In its September 2015 issue, Discover notes that Applied Minds: How Engineers Think is "an accessible and very human story of innovators." (W.W. Norton | Penguin Random House India | Oneworld UK)

Cover image from

Thursday, August 13, 2015

A Review in Science

"Engaging anecdotes offer readers a glimpse into the problem-solving processes employed by engineers," writes Sybil Derrible in his review of APPLIED MINDS: HOW ENGINEERS THINK in Science
Screenshot from Science, 31 July 2015, Vol 349, Issue 6247, p. 484

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

A Review in Nature

By Barbara Kiser, Nature, 13 August 2015, Vol 524, p. 159

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Thursday, August 6, 2015

How Does an Engineer Write a Book?

Think Like an Engineer: PW Talks with Guru Madhavan

How does an engineer write a book?

I developed this book more or less similarly to how I would build an electronic circuit. I had to fully understand all the inputs (characters), specifications (plot line), connections (transitions), and the expected outputs (message). As good engineers (writers) know, every component (sentence) in the circuit (book) should be useful and serve its purpose.”

For the rest of the interview by Eric Norton about see Publishers Weekly

Anonymously Saving the World -- A Review in the Wall Street Journal

In a cool review of APPLIED MINDS: HOW ENGINEERS THINK in this week's Wall Street Journal, Jon Gertner, bestselling author of the The Idea Factory, notes:

"Mr. Madhavan sees immense value in this kind of thinking for the general, non-engineering audience (which happens to include this reviewer). In example after example, he explains how engineer-think has permeated everything from traffic management to water purification. To Mr. Madhavan, engineer-think is both virtuous and adaptable: In our everyday lives, we might do well to tackle problems by considering the structure of solutions and the constraints and trade-offs involved—using the triad, in effect, as an organizing principle for personal or professional progress."

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Indian Subcontinent Edition

Dear friends and fellow engineers in the subcontinent, here’s the bold, brilliant blue cover art for the Penguin Random House India edition of APPLIED MINDS: HOW ENGINEERS THINK. August 2015!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Think Like an Engineer

Delighted to see a beautiful copy of THINK LIKE AN ENGINEER from Oneworld. Coming out in August 2015--in UK and Australia!

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Four Words

My thoughts from the IEEE Asia Pacific (Region 10) Congress for students and young professionals, Colombo, Sri Lanka. (The picture below is a collage of images from the conference badge and poster).

Two days ago, I visited the renowned Gangaramaya temple. I got back to the hotel in an auto rickshaw.
“Do you speak Tamil?” I asked the driver.
“Yes,” he responded. 
Our conversation then covered several topics relating to Sri Lanka. Environment. Highways. Ships and harbors. Political stability. Military. Waste recycling. Cost of living. Movie stars. I received a quality foreign affairs briefing from a citizen’s point of view.
       Total travel time: 15 minutes.

Minutes later in the hotel elevator.  
“Are you with IEEE?” I asked a young man.
“Yes!” he responded and introduced himself.
Jeff is from the Philadelphia area and is an electrical and computer engineering student. In IEEE speak, he and I are in the same region, but it took a conference in a country nestled in the Indian Ocean to connect us. I learned about his co-op with a major technology automation firm, and how he has been able to persuade his firm to now sponsor IEEE student conferences. An impressive intern.

These two conversations had one thing in common. They got started with my questions“Do you speak Tamil?”; “Are you with IEEE?”—just four words each. They triggered a sense of shared identity and created a new experience for me.
Several minutes later, at the opening reception of the conference, I met a creative Pakistani engineer and author from Karachi—who's also an aspiring film actor—and an energetic Indian entrepreneur who shuttles between Cochin, Kerala and Palo Alto, California to manage his start-up. All these conversations and small talks may not really mean much to most people who often go to conferences or happy hours, but they’ve often helped fuel my understanding of the broader contexts that I find myself in.
Especially as an IEEE member, I have been routinely enriched by such conversations and networking with people from various walks of life. After all it was through a chance encounter, I became an IEEE member myself when I was a second-year undergraduate student in India. I was majoring in instrumentation and control systems engineering but once unexpectedly struck a conversation with the head of the computer science department. “You are an engineer, and you must belong to IEEE,” he told me. He then sponsored my IEEE student membership. That professor may not remember me now, but I’m grateful for his gift and gesture.   

People value IEEE for a number of reasons. It’s an extraordinary global community of leaders in engineering and technology. It’s also a technical enterprise that thrives on rationality, practicality, and global impact. For me, however, it’s a neural gymnasium that has taught me deep life lessons. It has shown me how leadership and usefulness emerges in multi-cultural contexts, and how things get done for the betterment of humanity. By allowing me to debug and refine myself, IEEE has provided me a sense of identity, a sense of belonging, a sense of responsibility, and importantly, a life strategy for continuous personal improvement.

I’ve been fortunate to gain some incredible experiences and opportunities within IEEE. The most memorable one in recent years is when I served as chair of the IEEE-USA Student Professional Awareness Committee, one of the most vibrant groups I have ever worked with. During a committee meeting that was held in Los Angeles in the fall of 2013, we invited several engineering students from nearby universities for a public symposium on leadership and career development. It dawned upon me that our goal as a committee was to actually listen to the students instead of making them listen to us drone about the logistics of organizing conferences and workshops that could in turn help their leadership and professional development.
We were going in the wrong direction.
I halted the meeting and offered that we discard the agenda (the committee members supported me). I then requested the invited students—and two brilliant Walt Disney Imagineers, our guest speakers—to take over and show us the way forward. The freshness of their ideas gripped us. During the 35th anniversary of our flagship product Student Professional Awareness Conferences (SPACs), instead of celebrating our successes we chose to have an existential crisis. This led us to completely reconfigure and rebrand SPACs into SPAx where the students solve for “x.” The “x” denotes the primacy of student experiences in their self-designed and self-organized events with IEEE-USA’s support.
Ultimately, what matters for students and young professionals of IEEE—or for that matter, any professional society—is the engagement and experience that they are able to achieve and apply. It’s the same logic that underlies Walt Disney’s tremendous success story, as the two Imagineers explained. Disney isn’t really in the business of selling tickets to their theme parks (at least not explicitly) but in the core practice of creating memorable experiences. They helped create an environment (market) in which families look forward to their Disney vacation.
One student summed it for me this way during the coffee break of the meeting: volunteers are willing to participate and contribute only when their experiences are enriched. That's the true value we are trying to create. I engage, explore, experience. These four words (that also coincidentally abbreviate as IEEE) have since informed my own reasons for volunteeringsimilar to how mind-expanding conversations began for me in the auto rickshaws and elevators of Sri Lanka, and beyond.