In Applied Minds: How Engineers Think, biomedical engineer Madhavan shows how engineering techniques are useful in everyday life.

You use Alfred Hitchcock as an example of a person with an engineering mindset. Who are some other prominent figures who take advantage of engineering methods?

Alfred Hitchcock was unusual. Many of his motion picture innovations relied on his professional training in engineering and helped create a platform for future directors. There are several illustrious non-engineers in Hollywood, including James Cameron and George Lucas, who effectively capitalize on engineering tools. Your question also raises another thought: you see, at some point everyone is an engineer (or for that matter, an artist); for some reason, most of us just stop cultivating and carrying forward those attributes to improve our lives and society.

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.

How does the engineering mindset affect a person’s worldview?

The engineering mindset enables you to bring structure amidst abstractness or disorder. It also helps you effectively deal with constraints and trade-offs of life. You are always running a logical model in your head. What happens to the system when you change something? How are things connected? How to fix and prevent failures? It’s a mindset rooted in continuous learning and improvement.

What are some problems facing humankind that could benefit from an engineer’s approach?

One challenge relates to the strengthening of the global public health infrastructure. Engineering principles can help design or redesign systems to effectively tackle infectious diseases, for instance. The recent Ebola outbreaks revealed so many vulnerabilities and failures, in stark comparison to, say, how secure, fault-tolerant, and fail-safe our banking systems are. Another opportunity would be to boost the performance and durability of our public works—the U.S. infrastructure especially needs an overhaul to better serve us in the future.