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One quotation from the great physicist Albert Einstein has become embedded in my training practices:

+ “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”

And this is especially true when explaining subtle technical issues to management. Here in Australia we recently had a federal election, and I had the opportunity to talk to one of the candidates about a very subtle issue that has been bothering me for some time involving renewable energy. I found I could explain it, but not quite well enough. This caused me to return to my desk and understand it better. The result of such practices is often a very good, yet very powerful, one or two line statement.

One example from my training is “Friction is your friend.” I use this when explaining some of the methods of managing noise in high pressure drop control valves, and explain how friction helps manage the velocity generated noise. I am not going to expand on it (you will have to attend the training course) but I think you can begin to understand the principle.

We recently completed a pinch analysis study for a client. It was a very complex study, but we were able to create three simple statements that summarised all of the issues. I can probably tell you more in future updates, but currently it is confidential. In the interim, I can tell you the client is happy, because the message was simple and clear.

A simple message is difficult to create. It often can not be created spontaneously (but sometimes we get lucky). But once it is created, it is powerful, effective, and very useful. Some other excellent but simple messages I have encountered in my career are as follows:

+ “For this process, making the process as cold as possible with this system will result in maximum revenue”

+ “Please maintain the chlorine gas flow so the rotameter is between these two marks. Below the lower mark will not sanitise the water, and above the upper mark will waste chlorine and give the water a funny smell.”

In both examples, a simple explanation of “why” is also included, which adds to the clarity.

Another very powerful but simple message is …

+ “I will trust you to make a good decision.”

I have found this extremely effective when working with young engineers. They then realise the gravity of the statement, and start asking questions so they can trust themselves to make a good decision.

Now compare this to some well meaning but difficult to decipher messages from my career …

+ “We need to keep capital cost down.” This is too obvious, and it therefore becomes not a clear statement, but wishful thinking. The receiver of the message is probably confused.

+ “It needs to be better.” The use of the word “better” is subjective, and therefore is not a clear message. Better can be lower cost, quicker delivery, higher quality, etc. For a report it can be more words, fewer words, etc.

+ “We need to minimise emissions.” Again, this is too obvious, but also sends mixed signals. To truly minimise emissions involves a total shutdown, which is not practical.

(And to demonstrate that a clear message should not be too cute) “Show me the money.” Taken directly from the movie Jerry Maquire, I had one boss that went through three stages:
+ Was an excellent boss before he started saying the message
+ Was an excellent but annoying boss while he was saying the message
+ Was an excellent boss when I told him to stop saying the message (and he listened)

And my favourite …

+ “It is not safe enough.” In the coming months, I will discuss the shortcomings of this confusing message.

By the way, I found the Einstein quote on this website (