The Opportunity to Learn
I had a list of topics to write about and then I was reminded of something even more important to share. Today I got called out to a job where the windows had a strange film on them. It was something that wouldn’t clean off and wasn’t locked in between sealed panes. A mystery?
Several years back we were cleaning windows on a newly constructed home on Lake Minnetonka. It was beautiful, filled with custom woodwork and floor to ceiling glass panels on the lakeside view. Except the kitchen and dining room windows had a pervasive smear across them that wouldn’t clean off. We tried blades and steel wool. We tried a couple of different chemicals and finally I went to the builder and told him that this wasn’t coming off.He wasn’t happy, but after showing him the problem he agreed that it wasn’t coming off.
A month later I was named as a defendant in a lawsuit. They claimed that these very expensive windows were damaged either during manufacturing, installation, or cleaning. The lawsuit maintained that we could have improperly applied chemicals to the glass that ruined them.
Of course I maintained that we hadn’t done anything that could have produced a cloudy film, but now it’s my word against the lawyers for the home builder and homeowner, right?
I asked around and the consensus advice was to turn it over to my insurance and walk away. But for me that wasn’t enough because then I’d never know what had happened to the glass. I’m the type of guy with an insatiable need to know and this was an opportunity to learn. I wrote a letter in response to the lawsuit detailing our experience and enumerating the steps we had taken in the cleaning process, verbally proving that nothing we did could cause that result. Then I further asked to be part of any investigation.
They called me a few months later and invited me to an engineering laboratory where an expert engineer in materials science was going to try to recreate the cloudy glaze with a variety of experiments.Oh boy was I excited. This sounded like a live episode of mythbusters to me.
The process took 3 days and everything was replicated in lab conditions on brand new sample panels of that style UV protected glass. Guess what? We figured it out. I use “we” loosely. The materials scientist narrowed it down and I watched and learned.
Today, for only the second time in my career, I saw that very same film and I knew exactly what questions to ask.
“Sir, did the contractors use a polyurethane sealing product on the floors in this room when they built the addition?” and “Is it possible that this room was closed up after that was applied and the room heated up to an abnormally high temperature?”
You see, the outgassing from the coating along with a really high temperature, like a closed room on a hot summer weekend, causes the UV window protection to break down slightly and bond with that polyurethane gas, resulting in a compromised coating that is now impossible to clean off.
The thing is that we didn’t have to waste much time on it today. In fact I looked like an expert, because I am. Also I can provide a letter to give to the contractor and they can negotiate for replacement windows.
I guess the thing I take away from this is that being open to information is never the wrong move. No matter how much you think you know, knowledge is never complete. Someone out there knows more and will likely teach you if you just ask.
I watched with fascination as Shawn Gavin posted drawings and modifications for his clamp system over the past year. The learning process was active and you could tell by the excitement that figuring out strength, force directions, and weight restrictions was energizing. Making things better and stronger is an ongoing pursuit, just as I’m always looking for more speed and efficiency in our techniques.
There is so much knowledge and experience out there for us to draw on these days. Back when I started I had to call my supplier for information and sometimes they’d ask someone else and get back to me. Today on these newfangled interwebs you can communicate with real experts from anywhere in the world. The trick I guess is sorting out who to ask. My method is to look for people who know that there are often several right answers. They’ll say things like, “This is probably the answer you’re looking for” or “It could be this” rather than “I know I’m right.”The more someone knows the more they realize how much is left to learn and the less certain they seem to be.
Not everyone seems to be excited by learning new things, however. It’s frustrating to run across those fellows. I’ll tell you what, you’re never going to impress me with this attitude:
“My way is the only right way because . . . “
That’s a person who not only doesn’t want to learn anything new, but will actively fight you on it. Not worth our time, I say.
But then you come across this attitude:
“This is working for me, but I’d like to know how you do it?”
That’s a person ready to look at something new, ready to learn, adapt, and improve. That’s a person who isn’t going to give up if something looks hard. That’s a person who is going to try to figure out a solution and will call someone else to help them look at a problem with a fresh set of eyes and a new perspective.
Let’s all be that person.
I’m here if you have questions.
- Rick Wren