Blink by Malcolm Gladwell.
Firehouse Zen. It was in response to a blog that I wrote titled “Thought-Less.” I wrote that I felt that society’s attention span and appetite for information were getting shorter.
regard to how we process information. It is a little “heavy” and somewhat clinical, but it literally gave me an “AH-HAH!” moment.
Gary Klein, the decision-making expert, once did an interview with a fire department commander in Cleveland as part of a project to get professionals to talk about times when they had to make tough, split-second decisions. The story the fireman told was about a seemingly routine call he had taken years before, when he was a lieutenant. The fire was in the back of a one-story house in a residential neighborhood, in the kitchen. The lieutenant and his men broke down the front door, laid down their hose, and then, as firemen say, “charged the line,” dousing the flames in the kitchen with water. Something should have happened at that point: the fire should have abated. But it didn’t. So the men sprayed again. Still, it didn’t seem to make much difference. The fire men retreated back through the archway into the living room, and there, suddenly, the lieutenant thought to himself, ‘there’s something wrong’. He turned to his men. ‘Let’s get out, NOW!’ he said, and moments after they did, the floor on which they had been standing collapsed. The fire, it turned out, had been in the basement.“He didn’t know why he had ordered everyone out,” Klein remembers.”He believed it was ESP. He was serious. He thought he had ESP, and he felt that because of that ESP, he’d been protected throughout his career.”Klein is a decision researcher with a Ph.D., a deeply intelligent and thoughtful man, and he wasn’t about to accept that as an answer. Instead, for the next two hours, again and again, he led the firefighter back over the events of that day in an attempt to document precisely what the lieutenant did and didn’t know. The first thing was that the fire didn’t behave the way it was supposed to, Klein says. Kitchen fires should respond to water. This one didn’t. ‘Then they moved back into the living room,” Klein went on. ”He told me that he always keeps his earflaps up because he wants to get a sense of how hot the fire is, and he was surprised at how hot this one was. A kitchen fire shouldn’t have been that hot.” I asked him, “What else?” Often a sign of expertise is noticing what doesn’t happen. The other thing that surprised him was that the fire wasn’t ‘noisy. It was quiet, and that didn’t make sense given how much heat there was.In retrospect, all those anomalies make perfect sense. The fire didn’t respond to being sprayed in the kitchen because it wasn’t centered in the kitchen. It was quiet because it was muffled by the floor. The living room was hot because the fire was underneath the living room, and heat rises. At the time, though, the lieutenant made none of those connections consciously. All of his thinking was going on behind the locked door of his unconscious. This is a beautiful example of thin-slicing in action. (Thin-slicing is “the ability of our unconscious to find patterns in situations and behaviors based on very narrow slices of experience.) The fireman’s internal computer effortlessly and instantly found a pattern in the chaos. But surely the most striking fact about that day is how close it all came to disaster. Had the lieutenant stopped and discussed the situation with his men, had he said to them, “Let’s talk this over and try to figure out what’s going on,”–had he done, in other words, what we often think leaders are supposed to do to solve difficult problems, he might have destroyed his ability to jump to the insight that saved their lives.
read your mind?” Have you ever wondered if you were truly getting an honest answer or honest reaction from someone? Have you ever studied all of the available information, expecting great results and was disappointed with the outcome?
Blink by Malcolm Gladwell.
Art Goodrich, also known as Chief Reason, has been involved in the fire service since 1980. He was active for 22 years and spent 14 years as a chief officer. He is past president of the Western Illinois Firefighters Association and affiliated with the Illinois Fire Chiefs Association, Illinois Association of Fire Protection Districts, International Association of Fire Chiefs, National Fire Protection Association, American Society of Safety Engineers-Fire Protection, and National Safety Council.