Earlier this week I needed to copy a four-unit apartment where I designed the 13R sprinkler system and simply roll it over into a new job.
It was a complete duplicate building, just in a different location (new jurisdiction, different water supply).
Slam dunk. Easy, done. Right?
Well sure, except then I looked at my prior layout. I couldn’t stand it. I looked at my own set of plans from just three years ago (2020!) and they look terrible.
Now, the actual layout was fine. The sprinkler, locations, pipe are fine. Plans are OK. They were not at a stage that I think the average person would look at them and puke – but when I look at them I want to.
There are so many different tweaks and improvements on the presentation in three years that the work I do today simply looks very little like the work I was doing just 36 months ago.
The titleblock is hard to read. When you look at the coversheet, it’s a mess of schedules and details and sections seemingly thrown around wherever they would fit. There’s no big bold title at the top, nor any kind of easy recognition on whether this project is on Main Street or Mars.
It’s disjointed, doesn’t flow, isn’t what I would choose to do today. I get little goosebumps now having to stare at it now.
We don’t all stand on the shoulders of giants when we start out. We don’t hit perfection right off the bat.
In reality, we should acknowledge that we’re very clearly never operating in a state of perfection. There is always room for improvement.
And even if tradition says that our organization has done something the same way for 25 years, we need to be adapting to the needs of today and making use of the tools of today.
One single big overhaul that changes a whole organization’s work style and work output simply never happens. OK – maybe somewhere for somebody, a big, conscious overhaul of standardization and workflow is theoretically possible. But if it actually has happened somewhere, then it had to be exceptionally painful and surely not quick.
Improvement doesn’t happen ‘when we have time to take that on’. It happens in very very small increments. Micro improvements. A tweak here on this job. A nudge here on this job. A lightbulb on this job.
What worked better? What worked worse?
Adapt and move the chains forward. It’s far better in our world to take the 4-yard gain every single play than it is to throw 3 Hail Mary’s, fail, and then punt on the idea.
NO LIGHTNING-STRIKE CHANGES
If we tinker and tweak (surely I’m using some kind of Gen-Z curse word here or something?) things constantly, find what works, and adapt over time – that’s when we do actually make change happen.
We also don’t get this lightning-strike ideas all at once. We get lots of little ideas over time, that, when executed, add up.
It’s only after implementing all the constant little improvements that the big differences can start to show.
That’s why my gut sinks when I look at the presentation from a 2020 project.
It’s not one thing – it’s the 30 things that have all improved since then.
Yes, I’m somewhat embarrassed of the work that happened not even that long ago.
But no, I didn’t come here today to brag about my own self-improvement.
SPINNING IT FORWARD
What I’m really interested in – is taking that look back and spinning it around.
Where do we want to be, as an organization, in the next three years?
Where do I want to be, as a person, in three years?
Where do we want to take the industry, in three years?
3-YEARS TO TEN?
Where is it that we can take things? For me as a person, for my team, but also – what about all of us?
Three years seems hard enough to imagine. But carry out that thought – where can we all be, as an industry, in ten years?
Let’s set aside the news network hysteria and world ending predictions for just a second and assume that things are going to be mostly around in 2033.
That the fire protection industry will be growing and adapting just as it has for the last 120+ years.
What do we want the industry to be in 2033?
OVERESTIMATING THE SHORT GAME, UNDERESTIMATING THE LONG
A famous person once said, “Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.”
I find this to be slap-me-in-my-face true.
And I find the evidence for that easily when I look back on the last ten years.
Where was I?
What did I know then?
What did I not know then? (answer: it was much more than what I knew)
What was I doing then?
What am I doing now?
In 2033, will we all be sitting around and griping about the same issues that we gripe about today?
Are we going to fix the issues surrounding delegated design? The boilerplate specs from 1985? Bid drawings that themselves obstruct code? Or perhaps just as important, the apathy some people have towards fire protection?
Is it still going to be a problem?
If not – what must happen?
How far away are we from changing the outcome?
Even if it is big – or would take a lot of effort, or resources, or awareness – is it not something that we couldn’t completely change by 2033?
THOUSAND SMALL INCREMENTS
If we look back – see how all our small changes stack up – and then look back forward: it’s the thousand small increments that will make the big difference.
What are the small actionable items, today, that move us all in the right direction?
How do we break giant problems down so that we can hit the 4-yards of progress now instead of waiting for a Hail Mary in nine years?
What is that?
What does that look like?
TIME + PRESSURE
I’ve spoken with enough people I admire that I believe in my core that there are few things we can’t solve given enough pressure and enough time. I see a path where we can change the trajectory of the industry if we choose to do so, collectively.
It all depends on what we choose to do today.
What will we etch in a small way today that keeps us moving towards big change tomorrow?
And without sounding like I’ve completely gone off the rails; I think about these things a lot. I feel extremely fortunate to be able to do so with the website and the content and community that hang around here. I am so thankful for that.
I don’t mean taking on big challenges in a figurative sense – I mean it as an actionable challenge.
If you’ve got a gripe with how our industry operates – what are you doing about it? What change can you make now that moves things in a better direction for all of us?
Around here we’ve got “irons in the fire” so to speak to be making progress towards the areas we really care about. Some things maybe awareness. Others education. Maybe resources. Maybe advocacy.
Maybe they’re slow burns – maybe they won’t come to life for some time – but after lots and lots and lots of little victories maybe they will make it out to the world and make some real tangible change.
Ten years from now simply seems unfathomable for me to comprehend. Maybe it’s my age or my kids’ ages or that so much has changed in my world in the last decade. It’s difficult for me to picture it. I can only barely imagine what 2 years from now could look like.
But if you assume that 2033 will happen, that it will hit us at some point: will we be looking back and be mildly embarrassed by how things used to be – because so much has changed? Or will we gripe about the same issues without doing anything about it?
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Joe Meyer, PE, is a Fire Protection Engineer out of St. Louis, Missouri who writes & develops resources for Fire Protection Professionals. See bio here: About