Old Dogs, New Tricks? Or, Tension is Key for Problem Solving

A colleague responded to my post on listening to those with wisdom to remind me that it goes both ways…listening to the younger generation means new ideas, fresh eyes, different skills sets can be tapped to solve problems.

We get further as a whole when there is respect on all sides and everyone’s contribution is valued. Sometimes that means those who think it’s all figured out (because they did the figuring) will have to retread some ground. I also think there’s value there and so patience is required again.

Training the next generation is part of it, but there is more value there then just passing the torch. When two fundamentally different perspectives work together at a common goal, it can be magic. Make no mistake, it takes more work to find the middle ground where the team is performing (maybe the storming phase takes longer), but the power harnessed for good is much more than it would be if you only had one perspective at the table.

Laying the Foundation: Make the Most of the Early Days

If you are a new engineer and you’re starting out in the world of reliability, it’s a great opportunity.  Generally there are two types of engineers – the generalists and the specialists.  The ones who find great satisfaction in depth, and those who add value by making connections through the breadth of their knowledge (then there are some special individuals that can do both – they are really cool people I’d like to know, but I’m not one of them. They usually get that way by a long career and extraordinary effort.)  Everyone starts at the beginning.

The beginning for many is reliability work.  Learn the process before you can change it, learn the equipment and how to maintain it.  Witness some catastrophes, facilitate investigations.  This is how you learn, how you gain traction. Each root cause analysis is a chance to learn as well as a problem to solve.

It may seem like all you are doing at first is asking other people for their opinions and experience.  You were hired because of training in critical thinking and problem solving.  But you can’t do either if you don’t have all the information.  Those rational skills should tell you that you don’t have it all YET, but the best way to get it is to learn.  And the best way to learn is to be as involved as possible. Go and see when something breaks down – witness the mechanisms for failure, and also the way repairs happen.  Take a problem and apply your engineering training to solving it; use first principles to figure out something that hasn’t been figured out before.  Make mistakes.  Ask for advice.  This is the unique position of the new engineer.  You may not have all the experience in the equipment, or process, and you’re not expected to, but what you bring to the table is not insignificant.

You will gain credibility and knowledge, become the go-to person.  Credibility is earned, and sometimes it can be slow.  If you are the real deal, it will become apparent. Quality results and a track record can’t be bought.

What’s your experience getting involved at the beginning of your career? Did it come naturally, or was it something you had to work at? What tips would you share with those just starting out?