Dennis A. Gioia
Professor of Organizational Behavior
Smeal College of Business
Penn State University
Like many of you perusing this book, I was once a budding young
engineer, anticipating a career working on some interesting technical
problems for some exciting Fortune 500 company. I loved engineering.
I loved the whole idea of it—from the intense puzzling over some difficult
technical challenge, to the intellectual high of discovering the “elegant
solution, to the implementation of that solution in practice. Science and
engineering were full of elegant solutions just waiting for me to find
them, and I thanked my lucky stars that I was not going to be dealing with
the messiness of ambiguous decisions and people problems associated
with the less technically accomplished students’ careers. Engineering
had a purity and an idealism that were very appealing to me, as I suspect
they are to you.
My first engineering job was with Boeing Aerospace at Cape Kennedy,
working on the Apollo/Saturn lunar program as an apprentice. It was the
embodiment of every engineering ideal I had ever imagined. That program
was pure science and engineering, with the loftiest conceivable goal—to
put people on the moon and return them safely to earth—but it was so
pure in purpose that it left me unprepared for life in the “real world” of
business. You probably can imagine my surprise when I joined Ford Motor
Company and found a realm of complexity and ambiguity requiring a
myriad of judgment calls—some of them involving competing values and
murky ethical choices. Sure enough, I found myself working on quite a
number of interesting engineering problems, but now many of the solu-
tions to those problems were colored by legal issues, social issues, and
moral issues. Some of them, such as the problem with Pinto fuel tank
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integrity during rear-end collisions, even involved choices with life-and-
death implications. Heavens. My engineering training hadn’t prepared me
for anything like this!
My experience in the automotive industry, however, turned out to be
closer to the norm than the exception. These days, most engineering deci-
sions are couched within some larger domain involving social, political,
and ethical choices. Engineering is no longer a pure discipline (if it ever
was). Engineers can no longer practice their skills independent of these
larger domains but rather must consider them as a constituent part. For that
reason, in the modern era, it is no longer acceptable to become an engi-
neer without an appreciation of the ethical context within which we serve
society, usually through our work in industry. And that’s why it is impor-
tant for you to read this book and consider with care the instructive cases
that harbor lessons for you as you prepare for your now more complicated
career as a responsible engineer.
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