Have you ever thought about your understanding of the equipment and tools we use as well as the entire refrigeration system(s)? Many times, or maybe all of the time we assume we or someone else understands until something happens. This may be like the definition of confidence I have heard, which is “That feeling you get just before you understand the situation.”

I have had understanding challenges myself and with others in refrigeration systems and the tools we sometimes use. I recently had an experience, although not in the refrigeration field, that illustrates the importance of understanding. A little over a month ago I went hiking to the top of a local peak that tops out at 6,473 feet, climbing about 3,200 feet from the trailhead. The weather was not quite what I was hoping for. It was cool, which was great, but also cloudy with off-and-on sprinkles. Reluctantly I put on my rain shell, which is very bright orange.

I topped out in about 2 hours and the fantastic views I was hoping for were invisible. Clouds surrounded the peak and the trees just below the peak were wrapped in waving foggy layers. It was kind of neat but certainly not what I was hoping for. There was a little breeze on the exposed peak and because I had my rain shell on I was damp from sweating so instead of taking a break I decided to hike back down about a mile to a saddle area in the forest that I knew would be a good stopping place, since I had passed through there on the way up.

As I started down I heard voices on the trail somewhere below me. I figured I would run into whoever it was, but I got to the saddle area, which is a somewhat open area without seeing or hearing anyone. I grabbed a small handful of nuts and drank some water and while doing this I heard the voices again this time up a ridge trail instead of on the branch trail I was going to take down. Not wanting to intrude on someone’s “natural experience” I quickly packed up and headed down the branch trail.

I was just getting out of the open and into the forest when my bright orange rain shell gave me away. From up above me on the ridge trail a lady yelled “Hey! Can you help us? We’re somewhat lost.” This goes along with the definition of confidence. You think you know where you are until you suddenly realize you don’t know where you are.

I yelled back up for them to hike down to the saddle and I would meet them there. There were two ladies and they had hiked up from the north side of the mountain. I came up from the south side. They had a mapping program on their cell phone that was working and did show exactly where they were. It also showed their track, indicating they had hiked past the peak and continued for over a mile before they realized they didn’t know where they were going. It is extremely important to know how your device(s) works and what it is telling you before you put yourself someplace where the information is very important. A similar principle applies to refrigeration and almost everything else in life.

They wanted me to explain how they could get back on the trail leading down the northside. This correlates with experiences we all probably have had when we explain something to someone who doesn’t have much of a clue as to what you are talking about.

The ladies had blamed their confusion on the foggy and cloudy conditions. However, I thought in my mind that as long as your GPS device is getting a good satellite signal you can follow a trail in poor conditions, even in the dark where you can’t see much except within the cone of your headlamp. Been there, done that. Thinking of this and how these ladies had already not been able to follow the directions on their device and I figured if I tried to tell them how to get back to the northside trail which was about 1.5 miles from where they were, they would very likely get lost, again.

I said to the ladies, “You know it would be a lot easier instead of hiking a mile up and over the peak if you just followed me down this trail to my car and I’ll drive you around to the northside to your car.” They happily agreed.

We must understand how to properly use the tools and equipment we rely on no matter what we are doing. The same applies to understanding the operation of refrigeration systems and all of their components.

There are several reasons we may be challenged in our understanding. Some of those are:

  • Language. I have worked with not only installers but refrigeration operators where English is a second language. Sometimes a very distant second language. More than once I have talked to someone where we had a “a failure to communicate”. They may make head movements or verbal sounds indicating they understand, but they actually don’t. In cases where this has happened, and I realized it (that’s a key point too) I have used a sketch or drawing to illustrate what I am trying to get across. Sometimes walking out in a system and showing the person, is more of a “hands-on” approach which seems to work well with operators who are often very “hands-on” oriented.
  • Knowledge. Knowledge is a good thing, but when what we know is not correct or not completely correct it may be challenging to accept a different understanding of something. Depending on the person it can be difficult to change someone’s thinking. If you can correct or improve someone’s knowledge this may take patience on your part, as well as a better understanding of the other person’s thinking before you offer any alternatives. Think of the adventure of the ladies in the above story. I first got an understanding of their level of knowledge and understanding before coming up with an alternate plan to help them safely get out of the wilderness. I also didn’t point out their lack of understanding.
  • Confusion. A lot of times confusion can greatly reduce our understanding. For someone new coming into a facility refrigeration system, it can be very confusing trying to understand what controls what, and what goes where. Even for those who have years of experience when you go into a new facility, it takes time to get an understanding of the system. This may take weeks depending on how complicated a system or the systems are. To overcome confusion a person must put in the effort to learn and understand.
  • Determination. No matter who we are we only gain more knowledge and understanding by the effort we are willing to put in. Decades ago, at my high school graduation, I heard one of my classmates say, “I am never going to read another book!” At the time I might have felt the same way, but I soon came to realize that was one of the dumbest things I ever heard. To get better, to gain knowledge and understanding you must read, study, ponder, test your knowledge, and make the effort to understand. A test is a celebration of knowledge and understanding. We improve by being determined to work at gaining knowledge, understanding, and experience. Many times, experience comes from making mistakes, hopefully, small ones, that increase our understanding for the next time something similar happens. We should be determined to continue learning and gaining understanding.

Young or old, just started or experienced, we can all improve our understanding to be better designers, installers, operators, educators, and even a better person. Keep working at it!