The Road to Future Success

Nov. 28, 2005

How often have you been encouraged to participate in a planning session of one kind or another? If you are anything like me, you have attended countless planning sessions, and have the scars, tee shirts, and merit badges to prove your efforts. While I may seem to be making light of planning, that is not my intent.

Strategic planning has been portrayed as a critical part of preparing for the future. The future lies right out there in front of you. You would be well served to chart a course for the future of your fire department. It would be my suggestion that you ignore the future and what it holds for you at your own peril. In this particular instance it is my intention to share some thoughts on living with you.

A recent sermon in church opened my eyes to the fact that strategic planning is of little value if you and I fail to live our lives in a strategic way. We have a part to play in the manner in which we live our lives. Whereas strategic planning is meant to prepare your organization for the future, strategic living is a concept meant to prepare you to offer more to the future of the world.

Past failures often color how we view of the concept of strategic planning. My friends, planning is so important to our future and that of our organizations that we just have to keep trying. This requires a great deal of effort on our part which must be supplemented by an ample supply of patience.

I would rather be accused of a bad attempt at readying myself for the future than to be accused of ignoring it to bask in the glow of a glorious past. However unless you prepare yourself to live strategically, it may be that your efforts at strategic planning will fail.

Let me suggest that you and your life as you live it are a dynamic force for change which exists within the global context of the world at large. Unless you first learn to influence your own way of living, there is probably a very small chance of you having any impact upon the future of your organization, and therefore on the world at large. That is how I have approached my life.

On more that one occasion it has been my stated position that those organizations which fail to prepare for the future will be most assuredly be condemned to repeat the mistakes of the past. The same holds true for you and me. It is like doing the same thing over and over again on a computer and expecting a different outcome. That has become the modern definition of insanity.

While you may choose to dismiss my thoughts, it is my intention to offer some evidence that the past has a nasty little habit of repeating itself with regard to fire departments and how they conduct live-fire training. That might well come to be known as a new concept which I hereby choose to define as organizational insanity. In my case I suggest that this concept manifests itself through the actions of people who consider themselves smarter than the people who committed the mistakes of the past.

My suggestion is that this concept is the next outward extrapolation of the computer insanity example given above. If your organization keeps trying to meet the challenges of the future by using the methods of the past, you will be guilty of submitting to the concept of organizational insanity. I can hear you out there right now uttering the famous "not me" phrase of denial. Trust me my friends when I tell you that this is happening as you read these words.

It was just this past week that I was made aware of a situation down south where some really serious mistakes from the past were repeated by people who should have known better. The results in this current case may well come to define this new concept I have just created that will be now and ever hereafter be known as organizational insanity.

An email came bounding into my Outlook Express account from a gentleman who asked me if I remembered the school bus fire training incident which occurred here in New Jersey back in 1992. This gentleman was looking for any information on that incident that he might be able to use in his battle to halt this dangerously absurd way of training.

Given my propensity for the human voice, I asked him to give me a call. Apparently he was unaware of my role in investigating and reporting on this sorry episode in fire training history. When he got back to me a bit later, I told him that indeed I recalled the incident in question. I told him that it would be my pleasure to inform him that indeed I did know a great deal about this incident and would assist him in his battle. I advised him that I would send him copies of the articles I had written on this matter back in 1993.

The results of this latest repetition of the mistakes of the past are most disappointing indeed. There is, I have been told, a fire department in Georgia which still conducts their live fire training within the confines of an old school bus. Hmm, does this seem familiar? If this does seem familiar to you then you have been a member of the fire service for more that a dozen years.

You may also remember my writings and my seminars devoted to this issue many years ago. These folks down south repeated the mistakes which were made in New Jersey a long time ago and they came away dinged and singed for their efforts. They repeated a past fire service mistake and achieved the same results. In other words, they danced up to the edge of disaster and lived to tell of it. Have they learned anything? Only time will tell.

Part of my response to this gentleman's call involved providing him with a series of quotations from the report which I prepared as an expert for the county prosecutor's office in the area where the incident occurred. I then suggested that he call Randy Corbin at FETN down in Texas and request a copy of the September 2003 videotape training session wherein I discussed this training incident within a historical context. This man from the south needed help, and that is what I offered to him.

Frankly my friends I was somewhat astounded that such an asinine stunt was still occurring here in the 21st Century. We learned in New Jersey learned a great deal from the1992 incident in our state. We revamped our training methods and changed the manner in which live fire training is provided in our state.

It is important to note that my research on training mistakes over the years has uncovered countless examples of the "screaming dumb-asses" who roam the earth amongst us and who are running amuck under the banner of the America Fire Service. These morons think that all you need to be a fire department is some red trucks, a half dozen yahoos and a passel of good intent. Wrong!

These same people are the idiots who think that scaring the crap out of people is the best way to run off the sissies. After all, they suggest, only manly men can be fire people, right? Don't tell my daughter that one. Frankly I fail to understand what is going through the mind of far too many people who falsely fly the fire service flag in their communities.

We need to change my friends: you and I both. We need to start living life differently. This is America. Each and every one of us has the right to change our minds on any given day. Those who do dumb things can change on any given day if they so choose. Sadly the problem is that since these folks are dumb asses, they do not know that they are dumb-asses. That happens to be a sad fact of life.

It is my belief that this unwillingness by so many people to recognize their own shortcomings makes your job and mine that much more difficult. We who want to create an aura of change in the fire service by are hindered by people who revel in the mistakes of the past.

Let me offer a bit of advice which has worked for me in the past. It does not work every time, but it does have a decent rate of success. We need to avoid using the discredited style of personnel control which I have come to call the "Do as I say, not as I do" approach to organizational leadership. If you are to begin living strategically, you must begin to understand the impact of your actions upon others.

Unfortunately, you cannot grab those people who display a severe case of the "dumb-ass" and do them physical harm. That is strictly prohibited in about 48 of the 50 United States. You must model the appropriate behaviors for those people whom you wish to influence.

Let me assure you there is something you can do to help these people to understand what they should be doing. You can begin to live life strategically and provide these people with an example of how they should live. Think about it. How often have I suggested to you that the only person you can control is yourself?

That is the key to strategic living. As I stated earlier, you must model the new behaviors you wish to see in others. Be the example for those who need to change. That is the way that my musings with you have been structured. Lots of mistakes have occurred in my life. In some cases the mistakes were mine. In other cases I was the victim of mistakes made by others.

The fact that I have not been killed me leads me to believe that these experiences may well have made me a stronger member of the fire service. I will not be so silly as to think that I am a wiser man. When you begin to tout yourself as a wise person, you set the stage for a future based upon boastful, prideful saying.

A number of you have actually accused me of having common sense. You would not believe the laughter which shook the Carter household when I shared those emails with my wife. That is one of the greatest benefits of being married and having children. Whenever the potential exists to develop a swelled head over someone else's compliments, your family will take out the pin of love and prick the balloon of false pride.

No, I am just saying that there are some things which you should do and some other things which you should avoid doing. Hopefully other people will see what you are doing and do the same things themselves. That I believe is the key to living strategically.

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