Fire: an idea that will never catch on

Nov 25 2010 by Wayne Turmel Print This Article

Perhaps the biggest complaint my clients have these days is that they invest in technology that people don't use - or they use it so grudgingly that they don't get anywhere near their money's worth. This is a problem as old as mankind. I'm not kidding about that. It turns out Neanderthals had the same problem.

I was in the doctor's office recently (I'm fine, thanks for asking. A little salve will clear it up. Thanks for NOT asking about that part.) flipping through a magazine. The article was about how archaeologists have a hard time dating some Neolithic sites because there isn't evidence of the group having used fire, while other sites had ash and other evidence to help give us a picture of what happened.

The conclusion was that some tribes used fire while others who were around at the same time didn't - and no one seems to know why. This got me thinking. Who were the early adopters and why didn't everyone get on board with such an obviously good thing as fire?

Picture the tribe sitting around one night when Og the Geek comes running up with a flaming stick. "Behold, I have invented something that will change our tribe forever". He announces.

"What's wrong with our tribe?" asks someone.

"He wants us to be like those stuck-up Hominids with the small foreheads and skinny eyebrows. I think they're gross", says Ogette the Chieftain's daughter.

"Okay, hot shot. What does it do… and can you turn it down, it's kind of bright," asks the Medicine Man.

"What does it do? What doesn't it do is more like it". He then reels off a whole list of benefits and for every one of them someone has a good excuse not to use it.

If you stand close to it you can get warm. "Yeah, you can get really warm. In fact, I saw this thing burn down a whole forest not too long ago, imagine what it would do to your cave? Plus I tried to touch it once and it hurt worse than an iguanodon bite. It's too dangerous".

But you can cook food with it. Cooked food is way better and you don't get sick. "It's so inconvenient. I kill a rodent, I skin it I eat it. Now I have to wait while it changes color? What if someone takes it in the meantime? Are you crazy? Besides, I've seen what happens when meat stays near a fire too long-it tastes like dirt. I'll just gnaw on this raw, thanks."

Yeah, but just think, you can use it any time you want. "I'm sorry, have you actually tried to do that 'two sticks rubbed together thing'? It takes forever. And banging rocks together is worse - my fingers are still black and blue. It's easier to just throw on another mammoth pelt".

Then comes the night when it's cold and dark and the entrée is particularly unpleasant- maybe past its expiration date. People are whiney, cold and there's Mr. Fire. He's snug, well fed and can actually see the sabre-toothed tiger sneaking up on the rest of the clan. Suddenly fire doesn't seem like such a hassle.

"Uh, can you show me that two sticks thing again?" asks the Medicine Man.

"You know, in this light, you're actually kind of cute, " giggles the Chieftain's daughter. And the rest is pre-history.

Flash forward thousands of years. Your company has invested in SharePoint or Office Communicator or some other such tool and no one is signing up to use it. You have a way to save millions of dollars but it means learning how to use it. Why not? Because people don't want new technology. Or new procedures. Or to learn anything new, if the truth be known. At least, they don't think they do until there's a problem they want to solve.

Mandating the use of fire probably didn't work. Having it available, and showing people how to use it when they needed it seemed to work just fine. Nothing has really changed. Ponder that the next time you have to roll out an idea to your team or company.

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About The Author

Wayne Turmel
Wayne Turmel

For almost 30 years, Wayne Turmel has been obsessed with how people communicate - or don't - at work. He has spent the last 20 years focused on remote and virtual work, recognized as one of the top 40 Remote Work Experts in the world. Besides writing for Management Issues, he has authored or co-authored 15 books, including The Long-Distance Leader and The Long-Distance Teammate. He is the lead Remote and Hybrid Work subject matter expert for the The Kevin Eikenberry Group. Originally from Canada, he now makes his home in Las Vegas, US.