Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Fire Fighter or Fire Starter?

I just finished a presentation today for our local Chamber of Commerce and from the feedback we got, it seems it was very well received. I'm curious about other people's responses to the topic, so please feel free to join in.

The title of the presentation was "Are You A Fire Fighter or a Fire Starter? Ideas For Bringing the Spark to Work." The title kind of gives away the intent for the presentation, which is to give participants a new way to think of their roles within their organizations, whether as leaders, managers, employees, or anything in between.

I found it interesting to think about the ways we use terms related to "FIRE" at work. We want people to be "FIRED" up, but if they're too fired up, we "FIRE" them. When we get thrown into a new situation without proper instruction, we say we undergo a trial by “FIRE.” We’re supposed to be cautious even in relationships, whether at work or outside of work, so we don’t get “BURNED.”

Is it any wonder that as bosses and managers we find most of our time spent on putting out fires? We’ve been conditioned to keep things manageable … to promote the status quo, where we think we may have some semblance of control.

But when we have a few moments to think about what’s going on in those organizations we’ve so carefully tended, we might find there is very little spark there. Like a dry forest, a “dry” workplace can cause workers to be cautious about any new idea that might “spark” something beyond the status quo.

If we find that we've become conditioned to be fire fighters, we may find that we are instinctively looking for ways to douse the spark of ideas and passion at work. If we have spark, we may have fire … and the fire may burn out of control. But if we’re so focused on putting out fires before they become blazes, we may be missing the best opportunity to engage others in bringing their ideas and creativity to work.

Fire Fighters at work might find themselves in one of the following categories:
Fire Drill Sergeants: those who plan for the worst and look for it at every turn. Their motto might be “better safe than sorry.”
Wet Blankets – those who douse the fun by slowly killing the joy – “Well sure you could do it that way, but wouldn’t you really rather go the tried and true route?”
Flame Retardants – those who make it very difficult to sustain a spark and fan the flame because they just know it won’t work. “We tried that once back in ’85 – remember what a disaster that was?”
Fire Extinguishers – those whose job it is to squelch any activity that might lead to a new idea. “That’s not the way we do it around here.”

Of course, we do have two kinds of Fire Starters, too. The Sparklers, who provide the positive energy; and the Arsonists, who provoke gossip and stir the pot, not always in a positive way. The biggest distinction between these two is intention.

Quint Studer points out that in the earliest civilizations, Fire Starters were people who kept the flame alive. This was important, because if they were successful, the people lived. If they weren’t, the people died. Fire Starters make a difference. They are keepers of the flame. They fan the flame. They burn bright and carry the flame (or carry the torch). Fire Starters feel a connection with their purpose, they do worthwhile work, and make a difference regardless of their status. The find themselves inspired from within, not motivated from outside.

This video provided me some great inspiration as I prepared the presentation today. Even though we didn't start the fire, the fire does go on and on.

What do you think? Fire Fighter or Fire Starter? How might we support each other in keeping the sparks alive without creating a blow torch effect (as someone asked during today's session)? I'd love to hear your comments!


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