Avoiding Fires Rather Than Fighting Fires

Guest post by John Hunter, author of the Curious Cat Management Improvement Blog (since 2004).

In order to build strong companies that are resilient and able to prosper even in challenging times, it is best to create reliable and robust systems.

It is easy to be misled by what is flashy if we don’t think systemically. Often we reward those that heroically triumph over adversity while we overlook those who preside over calm.

image of quote text "Stamping out fires is a lot of fun, but it is only putting things back the way they were." with photo of Dr. Deming

But creating systems that are consistently reliable, and that avoid catastrophe, is superior to overseeing unreliable systems and having to cope with minimizing the losses that result from the inevitable problems. Yet our organizations often fail to appreciate good management. Good management is often quiet and seemingly easy. While poor management creates many opportunities to be seen heroically, avoiding even worse consequences due to the problems that poor management didn’t fix.

We need to create a culture that thinks systemically and prioritizes avoiding problems over fighting with the consequences of problems. To be clear, this doesn’t mean ignoring problems that exist. Avoiding problems is about creating systems which are continually improved to be more and more reliable thus avoiding the need for fire fighting. That is much better than creating very good fire fighters.

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