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Best Practices

Doing Things Right or Doing the Right Things?

I read this article in small is the new big, by Seth Godin, and I liked the story so here is a story about Clean Fire Trucks:

“I live in a neighborhood where all the firehouses are run by volunteers. I don’t know how my family, my neighbors, and I would get by without them–like firefighters everywhere, they do brave work with little credit.

One thing you’ll notice is how clean the trucks are. ‘Why are the trucks so clean?’ a friend asked. After all, a clean fire truck isn’t a lot better at putting out fires than a smudged one.

The answer: Because when there isn’t a fire, the firemen wait for the siren to ring. And while they’re waiting, they clean the truck.

Sounds a lot like where you work. Most organizations are staffed with people waiting for the alarm to ring. Instead of going out to the community and working to prevent new fires, the mind-set is that firemen are working to put out the fires that have started. Hotel desk clerks don’t write letters or make calls to generate new business–they stand at the desk waiting for business to arrive. Software engineers are often overwhelmed with an endless list of programming fires–and rarely get a chance to think about what they ought to build next.

The structure of most organizations (and every single school I’ve ever encountered!) supports this. It’s about cleaning your plate, finishing your assignments and following instructions. Initiative is hard to measure and direct and reward. Task completion, on the other hand, is a factory orientation that is predictable and feels safe.

In fast-changing markets, clean fire trucks show attention to detail but rarely lead to growth and success.

What a great way to describe a stuck but busy organization. ‘They sure have clean fire trucks.’ ”

This story made me think of something a lady at the tag office said to me the other day as I was writing my annual contribution to the tag charity. It sure had been raining a lot and the lady said, “My son is a fireman and he sure is missing the overtime pay.” What did she mean? Well, we had been experiencing a drought and all the fires had created a lot of overtime pay for the fireman–which many greatly appreciate. I suspect your goal is not to have fires but that’s not necessarily the goal of a fireman. He’s not looking for destruction but he is interested in his pay.

It may be difficult to see things from the other persons perspective or do the right things to find success. “You can learn something from every person you meet–even if it’s what not to do.” Abraham Lincoln


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