Thursday, July 3, 2014

Get Out of Your Comfort Zone: More Advice for the New Fire Officer

Comfort zones are a wonderful thing.  Avoid yours.  One of the most important, and difficult, things to do is get avoid simple acceptance of the status quo.  “We’ve always done it that way” are some of the most dangerous words out there.  On the flip side of the coin, change simply for its own sake, can be just as problematic.  The newest, latest, greatest, hottest change in tactics, tools, or techniques, isn’t always.   

Always what?  Well it’s not always great, or in some cases, actually new.   Recycling old ideas or techniques with new names and calling it progress has been part of the culture for a long time.

So what is a new fire officer (or any fire officer for that matter) to do?  How about this for a radical idea—think.   

Think for yourself.  Don’t blindly accept either the status quo or the latest greatest.  Examine both with a high degree of rigor.  I’m not suggesting blatant disregard of standard operating procedures, whether existing or new, but there’s nothing wrong with looking at them critically.   

Challenge yourself.  Specifically select articles, blogs, and authors to read with whom you inherently disagree, and then try to read them with an open mind.  Evaluate their arguments dispassionately.   Look behind the data.  How was it developed?  Was the methodology valid or do you perceive flaws?   

They may not change your mind, but you will better understand the arguments others are making on a particular topic.  Reading in this way also opens you up to the possibility that in some cases, you might need to acknowledge your own pre-conceived notions may not be correct.   

Try to find a few fellow officers, peers and superiors, with whom you can have a wide ranging, non-judgmental dialogue on fire service issues.  A few adult beverages (the operative word being few) can sometimes help lubricate these discussions.  The response “that’s #($*& stupid and so are you,” is not the type of conversation you are shooting for.  An open and respectful debate can sharpen thought processes, expose unanticipated flaws in policies and procedures, and overall, be valuable for all participants.   

I would be remiss if I didn’t point out; all of this is easier said than done.  Comfort zones are called that for a reason.  They’re nice enjoyable places to stay where you don’t have to think.  Critical thinking in this manner is one of the most important tools of the fire officer and leader.  Get out of your comfort zone and try it.