This is a question that seemed to dominate my holiday with my new (to me) camper van as my partner and I weaved our way through the Highlands.
Lighting fires isn’t just a lovely addition to a camping holiday, it’s a necessity to ward of the millions of midges intent of eating campers alive. However it is my favourite pastime, and one that I have been giving a lot of thought to both in terms of the practical skills needed to light fires but also metaphorically in relation to public service transformation and leadership and what it takes to create and sustain change: the underpinning aim of the Fire Starter Festival.
There were several things that occurred to me when walking around camping sites and beaches about fire starting. Everyone has their own techniques in terms of preparation – the styles of laying the foundations for fires are diverse and somewhat related to future purposes. Is it a fire that lots of people will be sitting around, or one for cooking, hence the use of flat stones or one where the stones will be used later on for warming up the inside of a tent (my own personal tip for wild camping)? There was also a much admired technique of building a wall of slightly damp wood around the fire that both acted as a shelter and a means of drying out the wood. Neat. So, having a sense of what purposes your fire may serve is essential but also recognising that these can change over the course of an evening – keep it going to ward of midges.
One of the momentous moments is lighting the fire, with flint and cotton wool, matches, fire lighters, a bit of smoke, and then the fantastic moment when the sparks take and everything whooshes up – and we all coo at the wonder. And now the danger point as the first kindling is quickly burned and the fire needs to be sustained. Often after the initial vibrant sparks, it would appear that you only have to turn your back and the whole thing has gone.
And here is when different techniques come into play. Personally, I like a stick to poke the fire with a stick, and this can be a danger. I can’t leave it alone, and constantly poking and prodding, but I learning to attend with a light touch – a bit of extra kindling, sitting back observing, a bit of a prod, a wave of encouragement with a chopping board (see picture) and it seems to respond well. What I do know, is it needs a careful balance of attention and I constantly move from intense focus to peripheral awareness.
In the Fire Starter Festival we are interesting in sharing the different approaches to innovation, how you spark your fire, and how you are sustaining it when all the first energising sparks have subsided and people’s attentions are drawn away. Do you let the fire fizzle out or continue to learn and share your techniques for sustaining?
What does fire mean for those in a leadership role? How open are we to encouraging risk taking? We know that the future of public service relies on the creativity and innovative of practitioners and citizens, yet do we allow space for risk taking, the trying out of new ideas into practice? Do we make room for diversity, allowing everyone the opportunity to bring in their own spark? Can we stand back from the emerging fires and allow some space for others to tend to their fires in their preferred way? Can we develop an interested but light touch? Do we offer appropriate support at different times, or does our interest wain when the flames begin to subside? Do we intervene too quickly when it looks too risky, and do we dampen down too hastily?
Of course fire can be used to let go of the things we need to let go off. Last festival we igited the festival with a bonfire of performance measures – what would you add to a bonfire this festival coming? The Fire Starter Festival affords us the opportunity to share and learn from our approaches, our risks and our failures too. Whatever your stage of fire razing, join the Fire Starter Festival and share your sparks.