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Hey Buddy, Where’s The Fire?

Its easy to get caught up in the momentum of what you’re doing, particularly if you begin to enjoy some success.

The classic scenario used to play out like this: a speeding car rockets down the highway travelling well above the posted speed limit, when suddenly, a police officer pulls from a secluded spot in hot pursuit of the culprit. The car slows to a stop, the driver winds down the window, and the police officer walks from his cruiser to the vehicle of the speeding motorist.

“Good day, officer.”

“Hey buddy, where’s the fire? You were going 75 in a 45 zone.”

Whether or not this is founded in reality, it’s certainly true that “where’s the fire” became a catchphrase to be asked of anyone exceeding the speed limit. The implication was that there couldn’t possibly be any valid reason for driving so fast unless you were a volunteer firefighter urgently responding to a call.

If you’re the owner of a small business or a non-profit, have there ever been situations where you’ve come to the realization that you’ve been going ridiculously fast? It’s certainly easy to get caught up in the momentum of what you’re doing, particularly if you begin to enjoy some success. If what you’re doing is working, it’s tempting to draw the conclusion that you need to be doing more of the same, and in less time. Suddenly, before you know it, you can find yourself careening down the hypothetical highway with an incredible sense of urgency that’s likely not grounded in any prudent business practices.

It’s at times like these that you absolutely need someone to ask you, “Where’s the fire?”. The mundane, day-to-day nuts and bolts of running a business can start to become invisible to the entrepreneur who fails to keep a sharp focus on what’s actually propelling the business in the first place. Fresh ideas, new programs, and exciting innovations certainly have their place, but real problems can ensue if these aren’t framed in the larger context of doing things decently and in order. Enthusiasm is a critical component to keep a business reaching for new goals, but it can cause everything to accelerate in an unhealthy manner if it’s not tempered with the reality of still taking care of business.

Some entrepreneurs can also get caught in the self-defeating trap of saying, “Great, we’ve figured this out!”. The reality is, you’ll never really figure “this” out. Because whatever “this” is will (or at least should) always be changing. Things that end up staying the same are in danger of becoming obsolete or error-ridden, and the only way to ensure that what you’re doing is meeting your needs and the needs of your customer is to keep looking intently at how you’re doing what you do. That automatically requires the discipline of not taking for granted what you already have in place so that you can simply go chasing after the next big thing.

Raging Fire or Smoldering Embers?

There’s also the irony of us sometimes rushing recklessly in pursuit of something as if we were going to a fire, only to be overlooking smoldering embers we’re leaving behind us. If nobody is minding the store, seemingly small issues with operational policies, the procedures required to fulfill job tasks, and even our overall business communication can be overlooked and neglected until they burst into proverbial flames. Because dealing with such issues can require scrutiny, patience, and meticulous investigation to discover the root of the issue, we sometimes create an unwanted bonfire in the fabric of our business by pursuing something else to the exclusion of fixing what’s broken.

If you want to ensure that you’re maintaining a healthy balance between the maintenance and growth of your business, an excellent starting point involves enlisting the perspective of trusted voices both within and without your organization. Having someone to ask “where’s the fire?” can not only help to identify critical infrastructure concerns before they become unmanageable, but it can also save on operating expenses by putting the brakes on expansion when things that are already in place need an overhaul. The demeanor of your business will inevitably change as you experience success, add additional staff, or branch into new market territory. Ensuring that you’re maintaining a sober perspective of the existing structure is the best effort you can make toward expanding your horizons.

If you’ve suddenly begun to feel that things are spinning wildly out of control, take a few minutes to ask yourself if it’s really valid for you to be moving so fast. Unexpected things can happen as businesses develop, but it’s critical to always remember that it’s you with your foot on the gas pedal. If you can maintain that perspective, you’ll never need to second-guess when you begin to feel that it actually is time to really start accelerating.


Do you want to get a deeper perspective on the overall health of your small business or nonprofit? If so, visit You can also contact us at or call 240-329-9387. Also, be sure to visit us on our YouTube Channel for tips, insights, and guidance on how you can truly do smart work in your organization.

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