Life’s Lessons as a Square: Applying Chemical Engineering to Business (Part One)

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Believe it or not, I have a degree in chemical engineering. I know, right? What was I thinking? Good question. No offense to all you engineers out there, but I think even my professors knew chemistry wasn’t “it” for me.

It was like that Sesame Street song about shapes. They show 4 shapes; 3 of which are circles and one a lonesome square. It’s clear that the square doesn’t belong there, but they rub it in by singing a little ditty –“One of these things is not like the others, one of these things just doesn’t belong…” – and that pretty much sums up me in engineer school. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t a complete square – I had spiky hair, a pierced ear, and ripped jeans – but I did stick out like a sore thumb.

But the fact that I was a unique individual in the University of Utah’s engineering program isn’t the point to this story.

The point is, even though engineering was not my thing, it did teach me a very valuable skill that has served me well in business: how to think in “processes”. In other words, what elements do you need to combine, in the right proportion and at the right time, to produce a desired result?

Okay, so you may not want to start producing biofuel in your backyard, but hear me out…

As an entrepreneur, don’t YOU need to know what resources you need, in what proportions and at what exact time to produce the result you want? Are you with me? It’s a process.

Personally, I think it should be mandatory for every MBA student to take a course in chemical engineering, where students learn the processes that convert raw materials or chemicals into something more useful. That’s interesting, right? And if you boil it down, isn’t that what we’re (hopefully) doing in business: taking our resources and running them through a process that converts them into something more useful – something that’s going to make a difference?

Hopefully by now I’m beginning to make sense.

If you step back and put on your chemical engineer hat (it IS okay to not always be fashionable) to look at your business like a process, things that seemed so personal before don’t seem so personal anymore. All those reasons you have for being stopped or stuck are bogus, and all you need to do is design a process that turns your raw materials into gold. (Well, I know you can’t combine other elements into gold. It’s just a metaphor.)

Now, how exactly do you design a process for success? I’ll dive into that in my next post. Don’t forget to bring your safety glasses and your pocket protector.

In the meantime, share with me… What have you done in your life that didn’t quite feel like a fit with who you really are?

About the Author:

For 30 years, Drew Gerber has been inspiring those who want to change the world. As the CEO of Wasabi Publicity, Inc., lauded by the likes of PR Week and Good Morning America, he sparks "aha" conversations that lead to personal and business success. His PR firm is known for landing clients on Dr. Phil, Oprah, Anderson Cooper, The Wall Street Journal, Inc., Entrepreneur, and other top media outlets. Wasabi Publicity lives to launch conversations that make a difference and change the world.


  1. Tracy April 18, 2013 at 9:15 am - Reply

    This is an excellent article and I wish more people would be willing to stand up and say it is OK to do something other than what is expected by holding a certain degree! Those who are multitalented often get pushed into a college degree that reflects one of their talents –one that is feasible, won’t rock the boat and will make a respectable living. The the reality is, the very small percentage who refuse to spend their lives in a box working a job that sucks tend to find little support in making the transition to living their passion. People (well, except maybe Mom) don’t want to support your craziness as you seemingly trade your degree for a potenial life of scratching and scraping at a dream, dragging with it your self respect. It takes guts and some other male body parts to stop these folks from living rent free in your head so you can go forward to do what you are here to do. The hardest part is to keep the courage and resolve to move forward when things keep going wrong and you face challenge after challenge. It is the norm –how many times have the big time multiillonaires filed bankruptcy? Everyone is watching you, passing judgement and waitng for you to end the idiocy….because they care. I earned a Ph.D. and I do NOT want to spend my life grading boring papers all weekend, arguing with students about grades and submitting publications that no one really even cares about. And fighting for tenure which is almost nonexistent these days… I decided I wanted to teach adult sex education (not my field by a long shot). I have the knowledge, the research know-how, experience running workshops and a book in the works. I am even building my own website. Every morning I shake off a little more fear and move forward. Eventually, I will have to tell my dad. lol

    • Drew Gerber April 19, 2013 at 9:53 am - Reply

      WOW! What an amazing comment! Thanks so much.
      I love that you know what you want, and that every morning you’re finding the courage to shake off the fear and move forward. Facing our fears is where the magic of life is.
      Helen Keller said: “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.”
      Good luck with your dad!

  2. Pat W. Kirk April 18, 2013 at 11:58 am - Reply

    Years ago I took a Myers-Briggs test (several times. My employer and several others liked it). The biggest thing it brought home to me was that it’s okay to be who you are. Before that, I suffered because of the things I can’t do well. After that, I appreciated what I can do and my opposites–the practical people (for me, logic is optional. It said that)–couldn’t bring me down. Poor them. They can’t do what I can do.

    • Drew Gerber April 19, 2013 at 9:55 am - Reply

      I, too, took the Myers-Briggs test and found out that I was an INFP. Just like with you, it give me the insight and freedom to be ME.
      It’s good to be me!

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