Why should engineers read more fiction?

5 – Emotional Intelligence

Every engineer knows that we learn much more after things go wrong, than when everything goes right.

Successes are quickly forgotten; mistakes leave scars.

Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand, use, and manage your own emotions in positive ways. Without understanding yourself, you can’t hope to understand, and be empathetic towards, others.

But too much empathy can be paralysing. Concern for the feelings of others can hinder much needed change. There’s a time for emotional empathy, and a time for more rational, emotion-free decision making.

Emotionally intelligent people appreciate the limits of empathy, putting it to use when the situation calls for it.

How to do engineers develop emotional intelligence?

Through experience, best of all.

But also through reading novels.

In fiction, we observe characters driven to extremes as they give in to impulse or miss opportunities, lose their temper or fail to speak up, fight for what they believe in or allow those in power to trample over them until they buckle, disappoint, betray, cheat and lie.

Characters in stories get things wrong, often spectacularly wrong, so we don’t have to.

My recommendation – The Starlings of Bucharest Sarah Armstrong

Set in1970’s Europe, at the height of the Cold War, Ted moves to London to get away from the working-class fishing community he was born into. Hoping to train as a journalist, he moves to London and slides into debt. Things look up when he is given an opportunity to travel east.

But others are watching him. And listening.

The threats people hold over us are most often imagined. We even create them for ourselves.

There has never been a better book on the art of listening, a masterclass in the art of manipulation.

Continue to number 6 – Lateral Thinking

The full list of 10 recommended books (and a few extras) is available here

Fiona Erskine is a professional engineer and the author of Jaq Silver thrillers The Chemical DetectiveThe Chemical ReactionThe Chemical Cocktail and genre defying Phosphate Rocks: A death in Ten Objects.