A fire fighter’s job is not to fight fires

I was fortunate enough to attend a local IBM Academy event yesterday, which included a number of great talks.  Right out of the gate there was a talk by one of the people leading the Smarter Planet initiative, which was quite inspiring.  There are certain problems that can only be solved by an organization as big as IBM, and the fact that we, as a corporation, are diving into many of these: energy conservation, electronic health care records, water management, was something that made me proud to be working here.

Something stuck with me very much when the speaker was discussing the Fire Department of New York City.  The bulk of their job (time, energy, expertise) has nothing to do with putting out fires.  Putting out fires is the exception case.  The bulk of their time is spent preventing the fires from ever happening in the first place.  This includes creating sensible fire codes, inspecting buildings, education, and I’m sure dozens of other measures to make sure the fire never got started.

The image we have in our mind of firefighters is what they have to do when the preventative measures fail.  The next time you find yourself putting out a lot of fires, at home, work, wherever, it’s worth taking a lesson from the professional fire fighters, and working on shifting your time and energy to preventing the situation from ever happening in the first place.

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