Firemen theory

Mark Glouston in his book “Just listen” says

Every one has an invisble tag around their neck which says Make me feel that I am an important person

That quote made me recollect my experience at the work place and ended up coming with a theory to explain the behavior which I named as firemen theory. I classify firemen into two types based on their reaction to a scenario.

SCENARIO: A fireman is on duty in a shopping mall and notices a dustbin on fire….

TYPE A: He notices the fire from the bin, swiftly acts on putting the fire out. Not only he does that but investigates for the root cause by talking to people nearby about the incident and educating the people around what could have caused the fire. This act helps in putting the fire out easily and makes sure people are educated about it.

TYPE B: He notices the fire from the bin; runs around crying FIRE FIRE FIRE. People notice him and try to locate where the fire is and a mix of panic and curiosity sets in. In the meanwhile he announces that people need not bother as he is well trained to handle the situation and directs two civilians nearby to fetch water. The fire grows in size and looks like it will spread its wings to nearby locations. After a tough attempt the fireman manages to put the fire out along with some of the civilians and ends up getting standing ovation and countless compliments.

The regular workplace is no different, people like to be recognized and that makes them feel happy. Heroic efforts are well rewarded & recognized and hence some people resort to seek attention. As it takes a good deal of time to understand the system and the good effects of living in a symbiotic relationship with the environment; it is so easy for a type A person to become type B as the personal gain and the sense of well being is granted, but it comes at the expense of more work to everyone and loss to the overall system.

Every workplace has to nurture the symbiotic culture and educate people about the delayed feedback about the overall gains in such a setting. It is very evident from football games where every team member’s move counts and all it takes is one selfish person to spoil the goal. Sadly people have a narrow learning horizon that many don’t see the long term effects about immediate actions.

How to bring the mindset of type A firemen into everyone? My observation so far has been that it is a slow process which involves a lot of patient type A people educating every one around non intrusively and show immense perseverance to drive the culture up. They should also tackle type B people which will be an art in itself. We should also be very cautious because all it takes is one selfish person to spoil the entire effort of a well knit team.

Let us strive to make our workplace environment healthy.


  1. Not necessarily – as a software developer, it makes good sense to bring attention to the snafu (fire in your example) so that others (presumably developers) can at least take note and not create same/similar scenarios (ie fire) in the future.

    Small diversion: if the type A person fixes the issue and moves on, the next time it happens, only (s)he will have the knowledge of recognizing the issue and how to fix it.
    By bringing the attention of the others the the issue (there are some people who dont understand the gravity unless they are faced with it first-hand; so fixing and then bringing their attention does not bring any benefits)
    and THEN fixing it, at least the knowledge has been shared.

    Once more people know about the ill-effects, the code/scenario (fire) can be fixed. Of course, the same can be applied not only for devs, but also QA, etc.

    And lastly, a life-threatening situation (a fire) can never be equated to a software glitch – unless the software in question will directly impact lives like the software running on planes, etc. 🙂

    1. @Vijay: Agreed that knowledge has to be shared. I mentioned it in the Type A scenario as well, that he makes sure people are educated about it.

      My opinion is; seeking attention instead of fixing the problem is wrong. If information has to be radiated, then radiating the type B way is not the right way.

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