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What The Fire Service Could Learn From The Grateful Dead’s Business Practices

What The Fire Service Could Learn From The Grateful Dead’s Business Practices

Successful fire service operational performance is based on sound organizational practices and principles. While the fire service has developed many of its own practices, we have also adapted successful techniques from other business models and cultures. Some being be very interesting and unique, but still useful.

The Grateful Dead, despite their image, is one of these extremely successful organizations. What does the Grateful Dead have to do with the fire service you ask? As one of their songs advise, “Once in a while, you get shown the light in the strangest of places.” The Grateful Dead and the fire service have very similar close-knit tribal cultures. Both organizations also pride themselves on having a great relationship in our communities. A book by business scholar Dr. Barry Barnes, “Everything I Learned About Business, I Learned From The Grateful Dead,” defines 10 principles the fire service can use to improve organizational effectiveness.

Why should the fire service consider utilizing the business practices of the Grateful Dead? Despite the popular image of being an LSD-fueled psychedelic band, “The Dead” is an extremely successful business model grounded in sound and proven business practices. In this long, strange and successful trip The Grateful Dead continues to be a thriving organization and enterprise that has been in operation for over 52 years.

One of the most successful components of the Grateful Dead is its values-based culture. The fire service’s culture is very similar. There is a symbiotic relationship between the fire service and The Dead. A strong family-oriented culture is a keystone to any successful organization. A healthy culture that shines “Inspiration brightly” is what motivates your tribe to want to be the best.

One of the principles of the Grateful Dead’s success is having a culture that includes sharing power, influence and input with everyone in the organization. The Dead let their inner family try until they got it right. The “job is to shed light and not to master.” Do you have a culture that looks at failure as another opportunity for growth and improvement?

Times are changing and they are changing quickly. Creating a culture of high-performing team membership that is always looking towards improvement and innovation is key to continued success. Is your culture strong enough to allow your tribe to explore innovation?

The fire service and your department can benefit from implementing some of the proven organizational principles of The Grateful Dead, taking a holistic approach to developing a value-based organization/tribe. A keen but flexible leader is requisite to get the band on the same note by developing a strategic vision that is flexible enough to withstand improvisation as needed to continue operating and moving forward.

Don't be like Casey Jones “driving that train”’ with “trouble ahead, trouble behind.” “Don't you let that deal go down” on you and your fire department. Be the leader and the organization that’s “built to last.” This is done by sharing the power with your tribe which aligned with your organizational values, with an eye toward the noble cause of serving your community. Insource as much of your operations to your tribe as possible. Let them leverage the experience of your customers interacting with your fire department through kindness and innovation, and using your aligned values and strategic vision as a guide.

Take a view of operating the business of a fire department from a different but successful, perspective and “Maybe you'll “find direction around some corner where it's been waiting to meet you.” It’s a “long time to be gone and a short time to be there,” so make the best of the “Long strange trip” with a unique but proven plan of action.

There’s much more connecting the Grateful Dead and successful fire service leadership. Join me in Indianapolis at FDIC2018 on Friday, April 27, 2018 at 8:30 a.m. for “How the Grateful Dead’s Business Practices Improved Organizational Performance,” with me Tony Correia.

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