Thoughts on the Engineering Industry

A blog covering engineering, technology and business topics

Archive for the tag “critical”

Critical Elements Required for Telling Good Stories

Hello everyone!  I hope everything is going well.  I have some good news today – I have officially accepted a job with Unified Building Sciences and Engineering.  I’ll be doing Structural Forensic Engineering work, so I might shift my blog over to stuff I learn in that field a bit more.  However, today, I like to talk about something a bit less technical and that is how to tell a story.  When I was thinking about my interview, and soft skills related to sales/interview type stuff, I realized that this would be a good topic to cover.  This is a skill that a lot of people know about and know someone who does have it.  Additionally, it is assumed that it is something naturally learned and that a person either has this skill or doesn’t have this skill.  However, I have learned how to do this somewhat better and I believe everyone can learn how to do this to some degree.  I will discuss some of the key elements I find important below.

Know Your Audience

This one of the most critical elements of successful story telling.  I have known a lot of people in my life who don’t always apply this concept and it can turn a reasonably well told story into something that completely shuts down conversation.  By knowing your audience and adjusting your story to fit them, your story is far more effective and is more likely to accomplish your desired goal.

Know the Purpose of the Story
This is very similar to know your audience but I put this in a separate category because I believe it is separate in nature.  You can have the same audience, but the purpose of what you are doing can change; furthermore, this change in purpose can change how you tell the story.  A good example I can think of is initially talking to a client to get a project, and then later having a conclusion of project type of conversation.  In the first case, you might want to be more cautious and expository about your defining characteristics and your future goals.  In the second case, they hopefully have an idea what those previously mentioned goals/characteristics are and you would want to focus more on results and the bottom line benefits for all the concerned parties.  So in this case, we would have the exact same audience, but the purpose of your story telling would be very different.

Quickly Set the Stage

This is one that I thought about combining to the one below, but I wanted to put it separate because I believe a lot of engineers have had to struggle with this.  As engineers, when we solve a problem, we are taught to write down the initial facts to be doubly sure of all the facts before we even start.  However, in story telling, people want enough facts to get to the point of story and what to take away as a result.  It is my belief that these two ways of thinking can conflict at times.  My personal method of choice is to reduce as much of this exposition as possible; then if they clearly misunderstand or have questions, I can go back and explain in more detail now that they have seen the larger picture.

Succinctly Describe What Happened, the Result and Why It’s Important
This one is critical as well because the audience can get bogged down if this is too slow.  When telling the story, it’s okay to be descriptive or even humorous depending on the situation.  But if a sentence or statement isn’t adding something of value to the story, people will lose focus.  So when telling a story, the speaker needs to moving through the three steps above in a succinct and engaging manner for the best results possible.

Relax, Have Fun and Be Yourself

This is essential to any good story in my opinion.  You can do all of the above well, but clearly don’t find it entertaining in any way the audience will know.  So any time you go to tell a story, you should relax, enjoy the situation, and find a way to naturally express yourself.  If you make a mistake, laugh at yourself and people will forgive you most of the time.  And that genuine humor and ease will be very engaging.

In conclusion, I believe that by focusing on these steps everyone can improve as story tellers to some degree.  This should yield more productive conversations with clients and better working relationships overall.

Do you agree with this list?  Are there any other elements I left out?  Thanks for your time and have a good week!


“Fracture Critical” Bridges and Other US Infrastructure Issues

Removal of the fallen Interstate 5 bridge over the Skagit River begins Monday, after barges carrying heavy cutting and lifting equipment from Atkinson Construction arrived in Mount Vernon. After removing the fallen span from the river, final inspections can begin before WSDOT can begin designing a preferred option for repairing the bridge and reopening the interstate.

Hello everyone.  I hope y’all are doing well.  Nothing new has really happened with me; just enjoying summer and my family visiting – all the summer type things.  Today I want to discuss “fracture critical” bridges and the issues in regards to US infrastructure in regard to the bridge collapse of the I-5 bridge in Seattle, Washington.  A recent article I read from the Associated Press, “Thousands of Bridges at Risk of Freak Collapse”, has discussed some of the statistics related to the issue.

The article opens with this quote to describe the bridge category of “fracture critical”: “Thousands of bridges around the United States may be one freak accident or mistake away from collapse, even if the spans are deemed structurally sound.”  In essence, this means that these bridges have no extra level of strength or redundancy incorporated into their design.  Further more these bridges carry millions of drivers every day.  This is the stated reason for the I-5 bridge collapse a couple weeks ago.  Recently, the government has focused on repairing bridges in the “structurally deficient” category – this means that portions of these bridges are poor condition or worse.  The most recent bridge failure in the “fracture critical” category was the I-35W bridge failure in Minneapolis which had a much higher passenger injury rate and even some deaths.  A study performed in the wake of that bridge failure revealed that only a few “fracture critical” bridges fail overall.  However, the government still builds these type of bridges in the belief that they won’t fail – the reason this design is still being used instead of the more conservative redundant design methods is monetary issues.  18,000 “fracture critical” bridges have been built from 1950 to 1980.  On a similar note, 30% of the bridges in the US fall into the “structural deficient” and “functionally obsolete” category; the “functionally obsolete” means that the design of the bridge is not suitable for it’s current usage.  The current spending on these repairs is $28.5 billion and this spending is double that of the budget in 1998.  However, this increase has barely kept up with the demand for repairs and while public officials agree something has to be done, they have not agreed on any solutions to effectively increase the bridge repair budget.  Currently, progress is being made by states in that they are trying to increase state budget investment using toll roads, gas taxes and sales tax.  Along with that, $3 billion of the $27 billion stimulus went to bridge repair budget as well.  Washington state Rep. Judy Clibborn states that “We can’t possibly do it all in the next 10 years, but we’re going to do the first bite of the apple.”

There are several things that can be learned from this bridge collapse.  The main one is that the analyzation of a bridge structure is more complicated than being structurally safe or unsafe.  While some of the bridges that get the most concern are the ones that aren’t structurally safe, there are a lot more that fall into that gray zone.  The secondary thing in relation to that is that in order to understand the complexity politicians need to have a better understanding of bridge design philosophy – especially the importance of redundancy and increased strength.  There also needs to be understanding by the population and politicians alike that there needs to be an increase in budgeted time and money to implement these concepts in order to construct the best quality bridges for our infrastructure.  What are your opinions on how to implement this?  What do you think are the best ways to increase the budget in regards to time/money and improve design/construction methods?  Thanks for your time and have a good week.

“Thousands of bridges at risk of freak collapse”, Associated Press, May 26th, 2013,

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