I am a corporate fireman. When I was a kid, I wanted to be a fireman. After 4 years of undergraduate schooling, an MBA and 15 years of work experience, I discovered that I am a fire fighter, just not the kind that wears the cool hats and puts his life at risk in burning buildings.
Ask anyone in business today and they'll tell you they spend a significant portion of their time "fighting fires". What they mean is that they are spending time fixing problems, resolving issues or working out kinks in the system. In fact, it's often a badge of honor to be off "fighting fires". Some in management view this as a track to advancement and spend most of their time in this manner.
Now, none of this is to disparage real fire fighters. They do a noble, dangerous job. But their job entails spending a lot of time waiting until a catastrophe happens, then scrambling as fast as they can across town to put out a fire. Is this the management paradigm we'd like to set and emulate?
I'd like my managers and co-workers to act more like trappers. Yes, I know it's a job that most people would shun - dangerous, long hours, animal cruelty and the like. But what intrigues me about trappers is that they are anticipating actions and activities that will happen in the future, and are setting the conditions for their future success in the present. In other words, trappers understand the terrain, the habits of the animals and their movements, and put down their traps with the expectation that future events will work to their advantage.
Why don't we create a new badge of honor for managers and executives? When asked how he got to be CEO, our prototypical manager could say with a straight face - "I've been working the trap lines". By all means, let's fix the current problems but let's not make a career of fighting fires - because someone else out there is laying the trap lines for the future.