I hate to borrow a line from a commercial, but it got my attention the other day: “People say there aren’t any more frontiers; but there are frontiers all around you.” The challenge to “think outside the box” was a unique way to describe innovative thinking in the ’80’s, and it was so overdone that everyone cringes when you say that phrase now. But when you are considering paradigm shifts and defining stretch goals, what better way to say that you are reaching out of the walls that confine your thought?
I was driving down the road the other day and thinking to myself, if there were a way to simply will ourselves from Point A to Point B, like the “Transporter” does on Star Trek, what need for roads? We wouldn’t need a car. We wouldn’t need sidewalks, or bridges, or doors for that matter. Think about being in the road construction business or the bridge building business, or in the auto industry, and one day, there were no need for your service. Your skill set, once valuable, was useless. What then?
There are a certain amount of people who advocate EMS as a method to save firefighter jobs when fires cease to happen. Conversely, there are those who say there will always be a need for firefighters, because fire will always be a problem. Perhaps instead of limiting our vision to these options, consideration must be made for what will we do to reinvent our industry wholesale. What if robots could be trained to do our jobs? I’d bet that as late as ten or twenty years ago there were people in the auto industry who thought that there was no way a robot could produce a decent automobile: Now we have robot-assisted surgery. How much father off do you think it will be before they are making interior attacks?
Anyone who demonstrates an obsession for the status quo and fails to think about the future with an open mind is only setting the table for their eventual obsolescence. Even what might sound like a stupid idea isn’t always too far-fetched. If you fail to consider the opportunities, you are missing a piece of the puzzle.
From the technical aspect, you might be able to guess at any number of possible eventualities. I’m interested in the nuances of leadership and command and what changes are in store for us there. While many think about the possibility of fighting fire without water or providing radical prehospital medical interventions, perhaps you should consider what would happen if we turned the way we lead upside down. Or if we were MORE of a military-style agency, like if we were brought into a branch of federal government. Or if everyone was paid. Or if everyone was volunteer. There’s no end to “what if…” because while the first few answers might not be plausible ones, they may lead to a prize-winning innovation.
Instead of making statements, every day you should be asking questions. And while not all change is good, if you don’t consider the effects of certain factors on your organization as they might occur, you might be surprised when they change despite all your best efforts. As leaders, if we fail to keep an open mind and reconsider every approach to what it is we do, while we may not fail today, we do a disservice to our organization. Doing things the same way day after day may seem “good enough”, but if you are caught flatfooted when things change overnight, don’t be surprised if you are left standing in your box while everyone else is running around outside it. Where are the new frontiers? They surround you, if you reach far enough.