Monthly Archives: September 2013

Explain Industrial Engineering Using Only the Ten Hundred Most Used Words

IE (1)

I am teaching a senior elective course in our department called Industrial Engineering Applications in the Service Industry.  It is a fun course that applies many IE tools to the likes of amusement parks, restaurants, hospitals, and hotels.  A goal is for the students in the class to enhance their technical skills in topics like mathematical modeling, queuing theory, and revenue management.  In addition, a secondary objective is for students to be effective communicators and to get their message across to a diverse audience.  Communication is important in all fields of study, but especially important in the service sector, where industrial engineers are often working along side non engineering professionals like medical doctors and wait staff.

This summer I ran across this cool text editor that only allows you to use the ten hundred most used words to try and explain an idea.  To give you an idea of the difficulty, “thousand” is not one of the ten hundred most common words.  After we had a class discussion about the characteristics of a service that are different from manufacturing, the following assignment was given to the students to test their ability to communicate, without using technical jargon, about their future profession and the service industry.

  1. Describe what an industrial engineer does using only the 1000 most frequent words in English.
  2. Describe what a service industry is using only the 1000 most frequent words in English.

I was impressed with the variability and creativity of the students’ responses.  As someone who has often struggled to explain Industrial Engineering to my friends and family, I especially appreciated the following responses about what an industrial engineer does.

•We make better the world. Everything can be made better and we actually do it.
•A person who comes up with the best answer to a problem, using as little money, people, and stuff as possible.
•Takes something and makes it better using new and old ideas, with numbers and facts to back it up.
•They make jobs for people easier and safer. They make sure that things that people buy are good. When businesses make things, they make the businesses able to make more things for less money. When goods are sent from one place to another, they make sure that the goods get to that place on time. They can figure out the quickest way to get from one place to another. This saves time and money. They can also make building plans for places where businesses make things. They can work with lots of different types of businesses to make them better.
•We do many things and can work in almost any place. We can make things better and easier to use. We focus on how to use people, money, and time. We can help you get letters faster and wait less time for your favorite rides. We think about the safest way to make something. We think of the best way to use doctors and beds at the hospital so no one has to wait too long. We try to think about things in a new way.
Some of my favorite descriptions for explaining the service industry includes the following:
•A field of work where businesses give things that can’t be stored and people must be present in order to get it.
•This part of the business world is a group of businesses that help a person or business but do not make a good. What these businesses do is fix people’s needs by doing something the person can not do for himself. The businesses can not store the things that they do for later and must be used right in the moment with the person. There is a human side to this relationship that makes it so that no two times will be exactly the same. This also means no two people will feel exactly the same way about their time with that business. The people’s idea of how their time went with the business is a huge part of this business group’s well being.
•Business that does not make an actual thing but does stuff for people that they do not want to or can not do themselves.
There is a national push for researchers to be able to share their knowledge and findings across an increasingly diverse environment.  Because we as researchers think what we do is interesting and worth sharing, I encourage all researchers to try and explain your research using only the ten hundred common words.  It is not easy, but it might enable us to share our passion for our research to a broader audience.