Decision Trees

A more efficient tool for problem solving?

Ok you got me, this isn’t going to be the most exciting topic…

But decision tree’s are a fantastic tool to use to get troubleshooting information to the people who need it most.

In my background in engineering and operations, often when things go wrong, the go to is a massive manual which often is laid out terribly and written in the most odd and old fashioned ways possible. (Seriously why can’t technical literature be written for the 21st century instead of the 19th???)

The end result is that we either ignore the damn thing and rely on experiance to tell what we think happened and what we think will solve the issue, or we keep going with the manual.

In either case lots of time will be wasted head scratching, and most likely even more time will be wasted messing around trying often aimlessly to solve the issue.

What if there was a better go to tool we could use in those situations?

The decision tree

The good news is there is a better tool for those situations, its called a decision tree, and many people have seen them, hidden in the back of a manual.

Normally in these cases they refer you page x or procedure 9.3d, which again just wastes time. Its a classic case of a brilliant tool being used incorrectly and then ignored by the masses because it appears to be useless.

Used correctly this is the most powerful tool for problem solving that operational teams can use, its simple, easy and effective.

Like any other visual tool it lays the information out in an easy to read way and gives clear instructions to move onto the next step.

This saves, time, money and confusion which can lead to more expensive mistakes.

How does it work?

The decision tree when used correctly, gives various options or decisions which are automatically made for you as you go through the questions being asked, in the example below its simplified for effect:

Simple visual and easy to follow, the decision tree can be adapted to anything from starting a car to starting a space shuttle, all it needs is the key questions on it and decisions people can easily follow as they work through the potential solutions.

They can be elaborate and created in fancy software, they can be made easily in power point or word, and I have even had the faxed to me hand drawn on the back of a beer mat.

What are the Benefits?

The benefits of the decision tree, are the ease of use and the time saving, versus dragging though documents or worse relying on experiance.

They can also greatly speed up the learning process for new starts, or someone new to your operations.

No guess work, eliminates other mistakes which can be made trying to solve a problem using a complicated manual or just experiance blindly.

Laid out as a visual guide so very easy to read.

Final Thoughts

These are a go to tool for myself and my teams nowadays, and have revolutionized the way I work.

Especially for those times where you are tired or under alot of pressure, having this to hand can be a god send.

If you have never used a decision tree before, give it a go, it might just revolutionize the way your work.

A bright future for Young Adults How do we avoid a lost generation of those who don’t take higher education?

Image Courtesy of Canva

Is Modern History Repeating itself?

This is a question Ive asked myself a few times recently.

Partly because I have nieces and nephews who will grow up and start to think about what the future holds for them.

Partly because I’ve read and watched some great stories about what is possible for young adults who leave education in high school and partly because the economic turmoil we are seeing now is going to make it harder for these folks to get a job.

When we see numbers like 30m unemployed in the US, it shows how saturated the job market is.

The real risk is that young adults today without a higher education become a lost generation, like so many were in the recessions in the late 70’s, 80’s and early 90’s.

s there really a risk?

In my opinion there is a real risk that this will happen for several reasons:

  • Developed economies have largely moved away from engineering and manufacturing, they are consumer societies, there is less skilled trade work available and so less opportunities for young adults to build a trade skill.
  • There is no education back up plan for these young adults, many don’t want to go into higher education, yet they receive the same education as those who do, this doesn’t provide them with the life and vocational skills they need to make a successful start in the adult world.
  • There is a gap developing between those with higher education and those without, often times those without are being restricted to the service industry and/or minimum wage type jobs.
  • Many of these young adults are ushered towards college, where they pursue a qualification in something random that wont help them in the job market, and that’s because they were not interested in higher education in the first place. A certificate in email protocol for example does not a higher education make.
  • The unemployment rate for 16–24 year old (Classed as those not in education or employment) hovers around the 25 — to 30% range.

That’s unlikely to improve if we continue to tackle the issue in the same way that we always have done, its not effective.

Modern history has shown us that, there are folks that are only now in their 40’s and 50’s recovering from the same issues which directly affected them in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s.

Possible solutions?

This is the good news there is, and its relatively simple on the surface, but perhaps more complex in its execution.

The education system is almost entirely geared towards preparing us for higher education.

The problem is it’s a one size fits all solution that tires to fit many different shapes through a round hole.

By the time we are 14 and we start to prepare for life after school we know what the path is going to be in terms of when our fulltime education is going to end.

This is a point where divergence is possible and this is where the shortcomings in the system come into play today.

So many young adults as I said before leave the education system at 16 with a few random exam qualifications but few life skills and even fewer vocational skills.

The lucky few get that opportunity of a trade and vocational training through apprenticeship schemes.

Overall however there is a missed opportunity in the education system where those skills could be developed at 14 at school, along with some essential life skills like financial literacy.

The benefits

The benefits to those young adults, businesses, the economy and society are huge, some of the highlights are:

  • It places less pressure on the education system. If you take a young adult who isn’t interested in trigonometry and algebra for example, but is interested in say plumbing or electrical. The school goes from having someone who is disengaged and potentially disruptive, to having someone interested and engaged in what they are doing. That same young adult gets a reason to get up in the morning, they are motivated, they gain confidence and they learn a set of skills that actually help them to be ready for the working world.
  • These young adults then become much more appealing to businesses. They have started their education in their vocation have some trade skills, have some life skills, coupled with confidence and motivation they can immediately be of some use to the business and the training cost/burden is greatly reduced which is the advantage to the business.
  • More people engaged in construction, energy, engineering and manufacturing is great for the economy because there are generally well apid job so tax revenue increases, but also because there jobs add to GDP.
  • Society benefits, because the benefit burden is less and the social impact of having our young adults unemployed is reduced. These folks have bundles of curiosity and energy, if that’s not channeled into meaningful work, it gets channeled elsewhere.

Final Thoughts

Does all of this mean that business gets someone who is the full package and ready to go and that overnight millions of skilled jobs for young adults will be created?

Well no of course not, in the way those same businesses don’t get that from their graduate hires.

What they do get is someone who is on the right path, knows the requirements of the job and the basic skills required and that in itself boosts business and the economy helping to create those jobs over a sustained period of time.

It’s a big swing in the way education is delivered but if you look at the numbers of young adults leaving school today they are either lifelessly dropping into the gig economy with no prospects cycling for a delivery service for example or dropping into college with no clear aim or the unemployment line.

We could and should be doing more to prepare those folks for a bright future outside of education.

It’s possible we just need to think outside the box and pivot to what works for those who are ever more quickly becoming a lost generation.

Learning a new Language

It can be easier than you might think

No Language is perfect and neither are we, but the courses tell us otherwise

Languages are a great skill to master for everything from training and exercising your brain, to making travel and social interaction much more enjoyable.

The problem is that most of the time, we can find them so damn difficult to learn. Sure there are some extremely talented folks out there, that just need 10 minutes in a culture and they learn the lingo, but for a lot of us myself included that’s not the case.

Im a big believer in at least learning the basics, like yes, no, please, thank you, hello, goodbye, the essential 2 beers please and since im childish, the best swear words.

My work involves a lot of travel, meeting and working with different crews of people with different cultures and languages, many of them speak English as a second or third language, so having these basics in the bank works very well, and has helped improve my people skills.

Over the last 3 years, Ive been based in Central Asia which on the surface is for the most part easy in terms of language, just learn Russian, one language which is universally spoken as a first language across the region.

The difficulty is, well its Russian, for the most part a complex, intimidating and well just really difficult language to learn.

This is the first problem in the way that we are taught to tackle languages, we are taught that they are intimidating and difficult to master, as humans we tend to overthink and over analyze learning tasks and so this new language gets built up to be some kind of invincible monster.

The second problem I have found is that most language courses are looking for perfection and teach a classical clean version of the language. In reality that’s not the way it works each, language is modified by its users.

As an example im from the North East of Scotland so while I speak English, I really have to think about what I’m saying and the structure when I need to speak classical English the way its taught, the real world just isn’t like that, if your not a native English speaker and you spend enough time with me, you will speak English the same way I do. (If you ever bump into a Kazakh who speaks Doric the NE Scottish version of English I probably know them).

Trying to learn this classical version of the language your trying to master can be a nightmare, again it builds up the difficulty and intimidation factor and means it takes far longer to get confident in the language.

The third problem is there is a lot of focus on reading the language, which can be really challenging if the characters aren’t Latin. Again having to learn to read the language immediately builds up builds up the difficulty and intimidation factor and means it takes far longer to get confident in the language.

Especially when there are really good instant text translation apps which are free to use, this is just uneesecary for the learner today, although if I was being cynical I’d say its a great hook to keep us paying for tuition for longer.

OK so what’s the solution?

The good news is that there are other ways to do this, we can make it much easier for ourselves to learn any language. We just need to re-adjust to the viewpoint that just as no language is perfect, we ourselves do not need to be perfect fluent speakers in that language.

Intimidation factor — This is the one thing that makes learning a language so bloody difficult, the thought of the complexity of the task gets into your head, so start with the low hanging fruit.

  • 5 minutes per day with the basics — To begin with just learn the very basics yourself online or on a free language podcast. 5 minutes learning, hello, goodbye, please, thank you etc. will give you confidence in yourself, keep going just with those until you have mastered them.
  • Write the words phonetically — On paper or a prompt card, write the word the way it sounds and include a description, again don’t spend hours doing this, just as you learn and get comfortable with the word, get it on a card in this way, not the way its written in the language your learning, but the way it sounds in your language eg, hello in Russian is Privet, but the sound is Pre, Vet when written in English. Being able to match the word to the sound it makes is much easier to digest than a bunch of letters that make no sense to you
  • Aim for the way word sounds, not perfect pronunciation — Almost no native speaker will speak with perfect pronunciation, local modification of the language sees to that. A part of the intimidation factor with a language is that we are taught that we need have perfect pronunciation before we can speak the language and that’s simply not true. All you need is that a native speaker can understand you
  • Don’t be afraid to talk like a cartoon caveman — What I mean by that is don’t be afraid to miss words out, simplify the language and your sentences as much as you to build confidence and add to your skills as you build confidence, eg, Can you tell me where the nearest restroom is?, this could be simplified to hello, where is nearest bathroom? No one will laugh at you, people will just be happy in general to help out or have a conversation with someone who took the time to try and learn their language. As you build confidence and your skill in the language build up your sentences.
  • Watch TV in that language — Pick your favorite shows or movies and stick the subtitles on for context. This immerses you in the language when you don’t have access to a native speaker, it helps build your recognition of the language and phrases, don’t underestimate the power of that.
  • Learn to count in that language — Start with 1 to 5 then 5 to 10 etc. go as slowly as you feel comfortable with but learn the numbers, once you have those down you can learn to do simple arithmetic in your chosen language, this helps you to think in that language and is a game changer quite honestly. I use this as an exercise 5 minutes before I start my learning for the day and it gets me in the zone.
  • Don’t worry about reading it — In the beginning you don’t need to be able to read the language, you have a translation app to help you available for free on your phone, use that instead, let you brain focus on one task, learning how to speak. Over time your brain will recognize words and start to put it all together for you reading wise, but don’t focus on it. Your brain is truly amazing, so relax, don’t overload it, and let this come naturally because it will.

If like me you struggle with languages but have a real need to learn or are just curious and want to make a start with a new skill, try some of these tips, its taken me long time to get to a point where im comfortable with Russian, almost 3 years actually, but since ive used these 7 tips day to day for the last 3 or 4 months, Ive developed more than I had the previous 2 years.

Languages don’t need to be intimidating or complex, we just need a strategy to kill the intimidation factor at the beginning and use simple tools and tricks to keep us going.

Its like anything else we want to learn or improve at, small steps taken daily build up like compound interest in the brain and lead to something great, the trick is to make it simple, fun and to keep going.