Clean Fire Trucks

I’ve been reading through Seth Godin’s latest book, Small Is The New Big, and came across a story where Seth and a friend passed by a fire station, and the friend asked “Why are the fire trucks so clean?” Seth’s answer was that when there wasn’t a fire, the firemen clean their trucks. He then identifies an interesting parallel (my interpretation) with “results-driven” companies that value quantity of tasks completed over quality of what is being created/delivered. He expands on this point:

Most organizations are staffed with people waiting for the alarm to ring. Instead of going out to community and working to prevent new fires, the mind-set is that firemen are working to put out the fires that have been started. 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 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.” 

Christian Buckley

Christian is a Microsoft Regional Director and Office Servers and Services MVP, the Founder & CEO of CollabTalk LLC, an independent research and technical marketing services firm based in Salt Lake City, Utah, and CMO of revealit.io, a blockchain-based video technology company.