Carter: Organizational Knowledge is the New Challenge

A blog by Wall Street Columnist Peggy Noonan reminds Harry Carter that the fire service needs to change things to a more reality-based way of doing business.


The other day it was my good fortune to read an interesting article on a Wall Street Journal blog.  It spoke to the many problems in government at the national level.  It spoke to the problems inherent in the law which has come to be known as Obama-care.  The crux of the article spoke to the problem with "low information leaders."  One of the key points involved the elevation of so many people to critical positions within the White House Staff who just do not get it when it comes to running a government.

As Wall Street Columnist Peggy Noonan said in her blog commentary recently, "…the administration is full of young people who’ve seen the movie but (have) not read the book … They act bright, they know the reference, (and) they’re credentialed. But they’ve only seen the movie about, say, the Cuban missile crisis, and then they get into a foreign-policy question and they’re seeing movies in their heads." 

My friends, I am suggesting that far too many people have risen to the top in their respective fields by using the modern version of the old Cliff Notes to study for life's truly final exams. When I was a younger person I discovered that you could actually create book reports without reading the actual books.  You went to the store and purchased the appropriate copy of the Cliff Notes series that covered the book you had to discuss. 

These books gave you the overall ideas, but not the nuances of the subject of your report.  I usually got a grade of B and this was OK with me. It also kept mom and dad off of my case.  However is this method the best way to actually learn?  They are at the actual center of the 'doing versus learning' argument which is taking place in our nation. 

At the heart of Ms. Noonan's commentary lies a simple premise.  Things are going badly in Washington because far too many people are unprepared for the actual reality of their jobs.  Let me now take my commentary in a completely different direction.  How many of our fire departments are similarly unprepared to perform the actual nuts and bolts tasks for which people will ultimately hold us responsible?

Here are a few points of comparison I want you to ponder.  They come from Ms Noonan's description of the manner in which the current White House staff is alleged to be operating.  They are:

  • There is a great deal of chatter without a lot of solid, substantive organizational meat.
  • Meetings are being held without an actual, identified purpose.
  • There are no actual meeting agendas.
  • Events seem to ebb and flow at the whim of who ever is supposed to be in charge of the meeting.
  • People jump up and leave the meetings to handle cell phone calls, texts and tweets.  They breeze in an out never fully coming to understand what is going on around them.
  • A great deal of texting and email interaction occurs while the meeting is under way.  There is therefore a lack of concentration.
  • People speak of how things should look and not how they should work.
  • No one wants to be tied to anything of substance just in case they get stuck with the responsibility for something.
  • People seem to speak just to hear themselves speak.

Let me assure you my friends that in my nearly fifty years in the fire and emergency service world I have seen and done many different things.  A great deal of my experience has been earned at the cost of some serious mistakes.  But the key to my success has come from studying our fire service history, identifying past mistakes, and working to learn news ways of doing things which allowed us to take steps which have moved us forward into the future.  I want to assure you that I have not used any version of the Cliff Notes approach to enhance my learning curve within the fire service.  Actually there is none.

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