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Embracing Your Inner Geek

FRIDAY, JULY 10, 2015

By Robert Ikenberry

PLEASONTON, CA--When you read the news, it seems there’s always a war on, over just about everything—and not even the shooting kind.

Today, I want to talk about the “war on science”—about why science is important to all of us, and about why that war is destined to fail.

There are always those who seek to influence others, using their positions of power to control information. Pretty much everyone who can, does it, or at least tries to, from governments, to corporations, to political parties.

Scientist / Spotmatik

Science itself is your best ammunition in the War on Science.

However, science, at its core, can help insulate you from all these influencers with agendas.

How Science Helps

Science, broadly defined, is the attempt to understand processes by observation, proposing theories or laws to describe how these processes work, and then testing these theories by predicting outcomes and devising experiments to verify these predictions.

It is self-correcting: If the theory doesn’t accurately predict the actual outcomes, the theory fails (or at least needs to be adjusted).

Plus, these experiments need to be reproducible. If others can’t duplicate the results, there is a problem with the theory or the experiment, and it is back to the drawing board.

Most of us don’t have the time, resources, or ability to try to answer every scientific question from scratch, so we want to be able to take the results of others’ credible experiments and research and accept them and apply them.

Skeptic / RapidEye

Season your professional outlook, even for the data you gather, with a dash of skepticism.

But it’s a good idea to have a bit of skepticism. And it’s an even better idea to apply these principles to the work you do every day.

Scientific Solutions

Try to approach each job as an opportunity to observe.

Are your work processes running smoothly? If not, why not? What are the causes of frequent breakdowns or problems?

If equipment is down more than you expect it to be, there are a number of potential causes—and you can’t solve the problem if you don’t know the cause.

It might be that preventive maintenance is not being performed (create a plan and follow it – does that solve the problem?).

It might be that workers don’t understand the correct operating procedures (provide appropriate training or oversight, and see if that eliminates the difficulty).

Or it might just be that the equipment is past its service life and needs to be retired and replaced (you probably want to try the prior two options first…).

ChemPlantWorker / Susan Chiang

Observing problems systemically can help you develop systemic solutions.

This approach can also help you avoid costly and time-consuming pitfalls in just about every other aspect of your work.

Do your labor estimates come in at or under your budgets? Do coating materials cure as expected with the correct thicknesses?  Observation (and keeping records) is the first key step.

Magic Act

It may seem like common sense and an automatic approach for any business, but you might be surprised at how many people are persuaded by “magical” claims.

Consider pitches for coatings that stick to any surface and cover 400 square feet per gallon at 5 mils. Or those claims about equipment efficiency or productivity that just sound too good to be true. 

No matter how much we would like them to be true, these claims almost never stand up to scientific scrutiny.

Healthy skepticism and testing through your own experiences (using observation, theory, and verification) can provide you with a great advantage, and establish an information database you can build on over your entire career.

BulletinBoardCheck / Yuri_Arcurs

Claims that sound good to be true usually are. And, by the way, it might be time to take a hard look at those "facts" you "just know" to be true.

It’s all just application of sound scientific principles.

We all have biases, including many we aren’t even aware of. They may unduly influence our business practices, from hiring decisions to coating selections.

Taking a more scientific approach to all you do, including looking at many of the “facts” you “just know” to be true, can be a beneficial exercise.

Plus you can use these skeptical skills the next time someone wants to sell you a lottery ticket….


Robert Ikenberry

Robert Ikenberry, PCS, has been in industrial painting and construction since 1975. Now semi-retired as the Safety Director and Project Manager for California Engineering Contractors, Robert stays busy rehabbing, retrofitting and painting bridges. His documentary on the 1927 Carquinez Bridge was the pilot for National Geographic’s Break it Down and an episode of MegaStructures.



Tagged categories: Bridges; Program/Project Management; Asia Pacific; Coating Business; EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa); Health & Safety; Latin America; North America; Robert Ikenberry

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