I think most engineers can relate to this situation. However, the real question remains: Why do engineers time and time again find themselves in such Dilbertesque situations. Is it really because we’re surrounded by idiots, nitwits and PHBs?
Perhaps, but this is only a small part of the answer. The other side of the coin is that engineers in situations like these often act in a condescending, patronizing manner towards non-technical people. This in turn is one of the reasons engineers frequently aren’t taken seriously by business people. Sure, business people sometimes display blatant ignorance of concepts engineers consider common sense.
The thing is, while some technical knowledge in business people dealing with technology certainly doesn’t hurt, it is the engineers who can be expected to not only be experts in their area of expertise but also to be able to impart their knowledge in a way non-technical people can comprehend. Simply saying ‘No’ not only doesn’t help with solving the problem at hand but it’s downright unprofessional because it doesn’t even leave any space for exploring potential alternatives. Many ideas and projects engineers are faced with might indeed be unfeasible but it’s your job as an engineer to make it possible nonetheless. If the original requirements are unrealistic you need to find realistic compromises and trade-offs because that’s what engineering is all about: Having ingenious ideas that make impossible things possible.