My Recent Presentation: Arrival, Now What?

GFFSLast Friday, I had the privilege of speaking at the the Great Florida Fire School in Ft. Pierce, Florida. Hundreds of firefighters attended the week-long conference that included both lecture and practical programs ranging from live fire to classroom classes. A few of my friends delivered the following classes: Applications of Positive Pressure (Captain John Flynn), The Courage Within (Driver/Operator Ric Jorge), and Gauges Don’t Lie (Doug Watson).

My program was a compilation of a few of my previous lectures on crew resource management that address stress, situation awareness, decision making, and intentional command all rolled into one. I called it Arrival, Now What: The First Fifteen are the Most Important! Why are the first 15 minutes the most important? It’s simple, that’s where more things happen than we have time and resources to handle. This highly compressed time frame increases chaos that forces us to play catch up, and we have to be more aware of it and have a better approach to handle it. Following are some takeaways from my presentation, just to get you thinking.

Numerous “fireground frictions” impact impact the first fifteen minutes of an incident. Frictions are “uncertainties that complicate performance” and they include, but are not limited to, disorientation, extreme fire behavior, loss of situation awareness, task saturation, and command confusion. Watch the video below for information about how new materials and technologies that are making fire-related risks much greater and our challenges for more difficult.

How do we transform unproductive confusion and disorder into controllable challenges? We study the predictability and performance of buildings and today’s fireground, and we improve the skill of controlling chaos. New scientific studies are showing us (seeing can be believing) how our tactics sometimes help or hinder the situation. The video below shows how controlling the door can seriously impact a fire event, and can help us control the fire (watch the temperatures change).

To stay ready, we have to practice sensible approaches that improve situation awareness, reduce task saturation, and improve decision making in those highly compressed time frames. Here are some of the sources I used to make my point:

What other problems (frictions) can you identify in the first fifteen minutes of an incident? How do you transform unproductive confusion and disorder into controllable challenges? What are you doing to stay ready?

FireGroundWorks: Are You Ready?

Photo by Tim Olk

Is your fire department ready? Do you build well-trained firefighters into well-trained teams? Do you develop firefighters and teams that think and operate in complex environments? Have you prepared your fire department to be ready for anything, at anytime and at any intensity level? If not, then why not? What’s stopping you?

Dramatic changes in the world demand that the fire service be ready for anything. Several factors affect a fire department’s ability to be ready, and the right training strategy is crucial to addressing these new challenges.

The real question is: How do we train (condition) everyone to be ready for any situation, and to be more decisive, deliberate, and correct in their actions?

Firegroundworks was created to help fire departments get ready. FGW explores the fire service, studying, writing, and speaking on how firefighters think and how they behave, and finding ways to help them perform better. The focus is on adaptive leadership and sensemaking through situational awareness, rapid decision-making, task management, and teamwork. At the end of the day, technology is cool, but firefighters still need to bring thinking to action. It’s all about being ready, and that’s what FireGroundWorks is all about.

Are you Ready? Follow FireGroundWorks for articles, videos, podcasts, and links for readiness on the fire ground.

What is Sensemaking?

What is sensemaking, and how can it make a difference in our lives?

In our complex and fast-forward world, we are constantly challenged to make sense of our environment. Faced with unknowable and chaotic situations, we easily become immersed in trying to find out how this happened or who was responsible, in turn leading us to in-action.

Leaders in high-risk organizations such as firefighting, medicine, law enforcement, and the military are often confronted with making sense of dangerous, highly ambiguous, and rapidly changing environments. While most leadership research is focused on more stable conditions that promote time-challenged theories, sensemaking is a way to quickly and effectively materialize meaning to inform and act on.

Sensemaking provides a grounded process that enables leaders to perform effectively during extreme events. It is not just a decision-making tool, but a way to open our eyes and reframe a situation into a question of meaning. Themes related to trust, situational awareness, agility, knowledge, and high-reliability highlight the collective sensemaking process that brings sense back into an ambiguous situation. Sensemaking organizes ambiguity.

Making sense out of our experience in the world is a compelling task. Most of us are just trying to answer two simple questions, “What’s the story here?” and “Now what?” Sensemaking has been around since the early 1970’s and the research has produced several applications, including organizational, educational and social approaches. The study of sensemaking has even lead to the creation of changemaking, but that’s for a later discussion.

The focus of my study is on the use of sensemaking to become better leaders in complex and chaotic environments. Follow me as I explore sensemaking and how we can apply it to our leadership practices. I like to say that, “Good sense makes better sense than common sense.” Good Sensemaking may help us bring thinking to action, leading us to safer and better performance, and better outcomes.

Whether leading in high-stakes business operations or in dangerous environments, how do you make sense of challenging situations?

Of Related Interest:

Where good ideas come from / TED: Ideas worth spreading

Humantific: Making sense of Cross-Disciplinary Innovation Now!

High-Reliability Organizing at Wildfire Lessons Learned Center