Whether as an entrepreneur, professional, or just as a human, it is so easy to find ourselves in a reactionary state, or “fire fighting mode”. I can talk for a few hours about why I think this is and how to move away from it, however the number one cause is pretty simple.

We don’t take the time to define “fire”.

Imagine this… a call comes into 911 dispatch and immediately the operator notifies the fire department. The bell sounds causing the firemen jump into their gear and race to their truck. With all five sirens blaring the truck races through town, stopping traffic, urgently rushing to reach the address provided by dispatch. They roll up to the address and before the truck comes to a stop the geared up fighters have jumped off and started hooking up the fire hydrant and unloading the massive hose. They all team up, grabbing the hose and are ready to take on the blaze….


Fire Fighters

Only to realize there is no smoke, no blazing fire. In fact there isn’t even a little fire. The door to the home opens and out comes an elderly woman who points to the tree in the front yard where Fluffy, her kitten has gotten himself stuck. Kitten in Tree

Pretty ridiculous right? I mean, to the owner of the kitten, this scenario is clearly very urgent, but not so much to the fire department that is used to handling high stress situations with human lives at risk. Also, if they know it’s a kitten in a tree type of scenario, they aren’t going to pull out the hose, connect to the hydrant etc, right? The situation doesn’t call for those types of resources.

How do you determine what is a fire vs a kitten?

Here are the three key questions I ask myself to determine what is a fire:

  • Will it cost me significant money?
  • Will it cause significant negative impact to my reputation or positioning?
  • Will it cause significant negative impact to people I respect and/or care for?

If the answer to all of these is no, then we have a kitten in a tree situation. Which means that I will respond, just with a different process and using different resources than a true fire. If the answer to any of them is yes then I respond accordingly.

Consider that often times we expend a ton of resources in our business (and our lives) to address what might be an urgent fire to someone else, but is really only a kitten in a tree to us. By defining what in your business is a worthy of being called a fire, it allows you to then use the appropriate amount and types of resources to respond.

If my qualifying questions resonate with you, great, if not, make up your own. Either way I urge you to define what your criteria is so the next time you get an email, text, phone call with an “urgent” need you actually have a way to quantify for you and your business if this is actually a fire or more of a kitten situation.

When is a fire a kitten?