Mitch HobishInnovation, Leadership, Productivity

I just spent a couple of days in fly-on-the-wall mode at the 2011 Great Divide Weather Workshop, which focused on sharing innovative science and service, with researchers and practitioners of meteorology, hydrology and related fields from across the Northern Rocky Mountains and High Plains, as well as the Pacific Northwest and Great Basin. The idea was to present and share results from operational experience in weather-related activities. I learned a great deal about weather, weather-forecasting tools, and the various offices of the National Weather Service, an arm of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

What I’d like to focus on today is not technical, however, but organizational.

As an amateur radio operator (AC7NC) and having involvement with our local fire district, I’ve become familiar with a terrific tool for managing organizations in times of danger or crisis. This tool is the Incident Command System (ICS), an approach to addressing the needs of the larger National Incident Management System (NIMS). Summarily, the ICS:

  • Allows for the integration of facilities, equipment, personnel, procedures, and communications operating within a common organizational structure.
  • Enables a coordinated response among various jurisdictions and functional agencies, both public and private.
  • Establishes common processes for planning and managing resources.

As noted earlier, the emphasis is on managing hazardous or emergency incidents. But some innovative folks at several Weather Service Offices have adapted the approach to managing their offices on a day-to-day basis, with quick extension into full-service mode should an incident or emergency arise.

As with many such “off-label” uses of tools, the application seems obvious in hindsight. However, it’s not until someone looks at a situation and decides that a given tool may have more uses than what it was designed for that most of us can see the obvious utility. Using an ICS-type structure in non-emergent situations is a terrific idea.

Questions: Do you suffer from “functional fixedness”? Are you open to explore new ways to use tools that you may already have in-place? Would you take the time to look beyond what a tool is designed for, to see what else you could do with it? How would you know you needed a new tool, or a new application for an old tool?

UPDATE:My thanks to Aaron Grant of for pointing out a dead link to the National Incident Management Systems. It’s been updated as of July 26, 2015.