A Simple Flowchart for Solving Any Technical Issue

Solving technical issues is generally simpler than most people think. In fact, by following the steps outlined in the upcoming flowchart, you will be able to solve nearly all of the issues that you encounter, whether they’re in your computer, in your phone, or in any of your other devices.

If you have a friend or a colleague whom you always thought of as a tech/computer expert, then know that this is most likely what they do each time you ask them for help. In fact, as long as you follow these steps, you can also become a local expert, even if you have no previous technical skills.

The chart itself is pretty self-explanatory, but there is a brief explanation afterwards if you’re interested. Even if it looks complex at first, give it a shot; you’ll find that it’s surprisingly straightforward.

 

A flowchart showing the steps to follow when trying to solve technical issues.

 

If you’d like to print it out, here’s the PDF version.

I also want to give credit to this great flowchart from xkcd for the original idea. The chart in the current post adds a few important steps, such as restarting your device.

 

Flowchart walkthrough

This section contains some brief explanations regarding the different steps in the chart. These explanations can help you better understand what to do and why to do it:

Find a relevant button/menu item and click it. In most cases, something relevant should be easy to find. Try to play around with the options and settings a bit if you’re not sure what to do. Often, the solution is relatively easy to find if you’re just willing to look for it.

If you’re tying to fix a problem, restart the device. Doing this solves a huge amount of technical issues. If you’re not sure how to restart your device, search online for instructions. Make sure you’re restarting the device itself, and not just the screen (if the two are separate). It’s generally preferable to turn off it off completely, wait 10 second, and then turn it back on; this is because it sometimes takes a while for all the components to power down, and for the capacitors to discharge.

Search online for a solution using a few relevant keywords. Odds are that someone has encountered this issue before. If they did, there will often be a digital record of the solution online. If you’re not sure which keywords to use, pretend you’re asking a tech expert for help, and use the same keywords you would use when explaining to the expert what you’re trying to do.

Consider whether this is worth the trouble. Often, trying to figure out how to use a certain feature can be much more work than trying to do the same thing using a different feature. Similarly, some issues are so minor that they’re not really worth the time and effort. The steps up to here require only a small amount of effort and have a high success rate, which is why this is a good cutoff point for deciding whether to continue searching for a solution.

Post the question on a relevant forum, or contact tech support. This can help in cases where you can’t find the solution yourself directly. The benefit of asking for help in a relevant forum is that you reach a high concentration of experts, and it can sometimes take them a minute to answer a question that you have spent hours trying to find an answer to. Note that these forums tend to have strict posting rules, so make sure to dedicate two minutes to reading them before posting.

Ask someone for help. If you decide to ask someone for help, make sure to tell them what you already tried. This can help them find a solution, and it also shows that you put some effort into solving the issue before coming to them. Keep in mind that unless they themselves are experts on the topic, they will probably follow the same steps outlined here, though they might find something that you missed. This is also true for hired, professional help.

 

Avoid learned helplessness

A lot of people have a sort of learned helpless when it comes to technological issues. This means that instead of trying to solve issues when they encounter them, they give up prematurely and simply assume that they won’t be able to find a solution. In reality however, most issues are pretty simple to solve, and once you recognize that technology experts and IT people generally follow the same steps you saw above, you will realize that you can often solve these issues yourself.

 

Summary and conclusions

  • Even if you are not an expert, you can solve nearly all technical issues by using a simple, systematic approach.
  • The steps you should follow are listed in the flowchart that appears at the beginning of the article.
  • The two most important things to do first are to try and find a relevant button/item to click on, and to search for a solution online using relevant keywords.
  • If you’re trying to solve a technical problem, restarting the device often helps.
  • Always consider whether it’s worth it to keep searching for a solution; sometimes it’s easier to ignore the issue, or try to solve it from a different angle (for example, by using a different software).

 


The Power of ‘Lately’: How to Ask Personal Questions that People Want to Answer

 

You’ve probably been in the following situation: you’re talking to someone whom you don’t know very well, and in an effort to get to know you better, they ask something along the lines of “what’s your favorite movie?” or “what’s your favorite book?”

Odds are you now have to start racking your brain in an effort to decide which book you’re going to pick. After all, there are so many great ones you like; it’s hard to pick just one. Besides, there are all sorts of favorites. There is the one that’s most epic, the one that makes you laugh the most, the one that inspires you, and so on.

The following example illustrates this pretty well:

I always hate it when someone asks me, “What’s your favorite book?” since I never quite know what to say. I have so many books that I love, many of which are in wildly diverse categories. I usually end up telling them that I don’t have a single favorite book, or even a category.

From a discussion on Reddit

This is why questions along the lines of “what’s your favorite X” are generally a bad choice in conversations. Luckily however, you can modify these questions a bit, to make them easier and more fun for people to answer.

 

The power of ‘lately’

Instead of asking people what their favorite film is, ask about a good movie that they watched lately.

This makes your question easier to answer for several reasons:

  • It narrows the number of options that they have to pick from.
  • It makes the decision less significant, which takes some pressure off.
  • It focuses the decision on recent experiences, which are easier for people to remember.

You can substitute ‘lately’ for other variants, such as recently. The goal is the same: to make the question about an experience they had not too long ago.

An added benefit of doing this is that it makes your discussion feel more like a casual conversation, and less like an interview. It also helps you stand out and make a positive impression, since most people will go with the default “favorite X” questions.

 

Other types of questions

There are other ways to modify personal questions that you ask, so that they will be easier and more fun for people to answer. All these options revolve around the same theme, which is to avoid asking the other person for a single, definitive answer. Some of the options you can use are:

  • What’s one of your favorite books?
  • What movie really made you laugh?

You can combine this with using ‘lately’ if you want:

  • What book did you enjoy reading lately?
  • What movie made you laugh lately?

Similarly to adding ‘lately’, these variations also makes your question feel more like a part of natural conversation, and less like an interview.

Note that different people will respond differently to the various questions, so you can modify the type of questions you ask based on the person you’re talking to and on the context.

 

Summary and conclusions

  • A lot of people hate answering questions in the format of “what’s your favorite X”.
  • The problem is that these questions are difficult to answer, as it’s hard to pick a single, definitive answer out of all the available options.
  • Instead, you should ask questions about things that people encountered lately, such as “what’s a good movie that you watched lately?”
  • There are other variants, such as asking them to pick a movie that made them laugh.
  • Doing this makes these questions easier and more fun to answer, while also making the conversation feel more natural.

 


Avoiding Miscommunication: A Brief Guide to Using the NATO Phonetic Alphabet

Representation of alphabet.

 

Miscommunication can arise in a variety of situations, such as when talking on the phone in an area with bad reception or with a lot of background noise. This is especially frustrating if you’re trying to communicate an exact term, such as a name or a street address.

Using the NATO phonetic alphabet allows you to avoid miscommunication issues, by helping you spell out words in a way that is intelligible regardless of the situation. This can be valuable for everything from talking with tech support, to contacting emergency services. In fact, it’s so effective that there have been calls for using the NATO alphabet among medical professionals, where accurate communication can be a matter of life and death.

The following guide will explain to you how the NATO alphabet works, and how to use it. The concept behind it is very simple, so you will be able to implement it almost immediately and with good results.

 

The concept

The idea behind the NATO alphabet is very simple: you replace the letter you want to say with a word that starts with the same letter. For example:

  • B  is replaced by BRAVO
  • G  is replaced by GOLF
  • O  is replaced by OSCAR

While learning the actual NATO alphabet can be useful, the most important thing to remember is how the different letters are represented. By simply remembering this one principle, you can enjoy most of the benefits of the phonetic alphabet, without much effort on your part. Furthermore, this principle is useful in locations where people use different variants of the phonetic alphabet (such as the LAPD radio alphabet), as they rely on the same principle.

 

The NATO phonetic alphabet

As you just saw, understanding the principle behind the alphabet allows you to enjoy most of its benefits, without having to learn the alphabet itself. However, you can still benefit from learning the alphabet, for two main reasons. First, because it’s standardized and widely used, meaning that a lot more people are likely to recognize and understand it. Second, because the words in the alphabet were chosen based on extensive testing, as they ensure mutual intelligibility between speakers from different linguistic backgrounds.

The image below contains the NATO phonetic alphabet:

Chart containing all the letters in English, together with their corresponding code-word in the NATO phonetic alphabet (including pronunciation).

 

If you want to say a number, you simply say the whole word, with a few minor variations in pronunciation in some cases (compared to ‘regular’ English):

Chart containing numbers, together with their corresponding code-word in the NATO phonetic alphabet (including pronunciation).

 

The punctuation marks are referred to by name with a few exception: a hyphen (-) is referred to as a dash, and a period (.) is referred to as a stop, while a decimal point is referred to as a point or as a decimal.

(A full table, containing both the letters and the numbers is available: as an image and as a PDF, if you’re interested.)

 

Memorizing the alphabet

If you decide you want to learn the NATO alphabet, you can do it by using flashcards or a memorization software (such as Anki). You could also memorize the code words in order, preferably using a rhythm or tune that makes them easier for you to remember.

Once you can roughly recall all the code words, start practicing by spelling out different words using the alphabet. These words can be anything you want: from random items you encounter, to the addresses of streets you pass by. If you want, you can also try spelling out random strings, such as those on license plates.

 

Other things to keep in mind

There are a few other things you should remember when using the alphabet, in order to ensure that you’re using it effectively:

  • Make sure to say the full word you are spelling out before and after spelling it. This will help the other person understand what you are saying.
  • Make sure the person you’re talking to knows that you are spelling out a word and understands how you are doing it. If they’re not familiar with the concept of the phonetic alphabet, you can use the following pattern when spelling out words: “N as in November, O as in Oscar…”
  • When improvising, avoid words which can be easily confused with other words due to a similar-sounding initial letter (e.g. ban/pan), or where it’s difficult to isolate the initial letter (e.g. the ‘b’ in ‘brain’, which is pronounced together with the ‘r’).

 

Summary and conclusions

  • There is often miscommunication when trying to spell things out over the phone; this can be frustrating in some cases, and outright dangerous in others (for example, when telling emergency services your address).
  • To solve this, you can use the NATO Phonetic Alphabet in order to spell out words.
  • You can memorize the words in the official alphabet, since they were picked out after extensive testing to ensure intelligibility.
  • If you don’t remember the official alphabet, you can easily improvise by using words where the first letter in the word corresponds to the letter you are trying to say.
  • Make sure to state the full word before and after spelling it out, and let the listener know that you are going to spell it out using the phonetic alphabet.
  • If you’re improvising, avoid using words where the sound of the first letter is difficult to identify.