I'm sure this has been said before, but I think good engineering is knowing who to imitate. This is a simple observation, but we developers have something hardwired into our brains that says using other proven designs is bad, and instead we should go through the pain of finding the solution ourselves. But we just end up making the same mistakes.
Good engineers are part critic and editor. They are able to look at other designs and determine what worked, what didn't and why. Then choose the best solution for their task at hand. Engineering isn't about breaking untouched ground, but rather building useful products and incrementally improving the state of the art.
The Japanese rebuilt their manufacturing economy by improving on the designs and processes already deployed. It is not a coincidence that both my Subaru and Porsche share a common boxer engine configuration. Subaru borrowed heavily from German designs, but instead of isolating the design in expensive, limited production sports cars, they streamlined the production and made it feasible for everyday passenger cars. They created new markets out of proven technology. And realistically that's what most of us are trying to do.
Update: There must be a blog editing service. I'm the worst editor of my own writing.