Light The Fuse

When I was a pre-teen, I made my first pyrotechnics. Using a chemistry set my parents gave me, some gunpowder from our ammo reloading supplies, and materials I mail-ordered from a chemical supply company, I made a firework shell and lift charge and set it off in the intersection next to our house.

Unfortunately, I was not yet an engineer and my mortar tube did not survive the lift charge, leaving the lit shell sitting in the middle of the intersection. If you have ever seen a video of a firework going off on the ground, you can picture what happened next. These days we stick to purchased fireworks for our family show.

A lot of thought and preparation goes into our show each year. We order the fireworks from the distributor early. We plan which elements to put on each channel of our ignition system and what the timing of those elements will be. We pick up the fireworks (an entire pickup truck full) and get them stored at our property.

Early on the fourth, we begin to set up the show. Each firework is placed in its spot and connected to the other fireworks on its channel with timed fuses. The mortars (144 of them) are fused together in sets so they will fire in groups. It takes three or four people and several hours to get everything ready. Once it is dark, we can ignite the first fuse and begin the show.

Like our fireworks show, a lot of preparation and effort goes into our work, projects, and personal development. Often, it is hard to tell how things are going to look when they are done. Sometimes, we work for a long time with very little visible evidence. This is especially true for leaders. Much of what we do requires that we create a foundation over time before we can see the structure rise up.

There is always a moment when you have to light the fuse.

Every change has a moment where it’s necessary to shift from planning and getting ready to acting. This moment is scary and risky. Lighting the fuse makes it very difficult to go back. It moves us from what might be to what is. What makes it scary is that we are solidifying things that have been fluid and changeable. We are committing.

On the fourth, when the sun has gone down and the sky is finally dark, everyone gets comfortable (as they can) in their folding chairs and waits for the show to start. Even then, we could still change something. The moment comes and we push the button to ignite the first channel, and everything changes. There is really no going back.

After the fuse is lit, it becomes much harder to change direction. Maybe that is why it can be so difficult to transition from planning and thinking to doing. Doing means in many ways, we cannot go back. We can always go forward in a different direction, but back is not an option. That is scary.

We have an excellent safety record at our fireworks show. No one has ever been injured. That is not the same as everything always going according to plan. One year, a cremora cannon blew up, shredding a five-gallon bucket into very small pieces. Another year, we tried to set off 14,000 pop bottle rockets and burned the frame we had made to the ground. Sometimes, things go off before they are supposed to; sometimes, they don’t go off at all.

In spite of all our planning and preparation, things happen that are unplanned, but we still light the fuse every year. Leaders are not perfect, and their vision and plans are not either. Moreover, everyone on the team who is working to prepare and execute is human and will make mistakes too. It is inevitable that things will go wrong. You still have to light the fuse.

I can’t remember a single time in all the years that we have done the fireworks show that anyone has said, “You probably shouldn’t have lit the fuse,” regardless of the mishap. Action is messy, but necessary. Mistakes will be made, but the worst one we can make is to not act at all.

I find it appropriate that we set off fireworks on this holiday to celebrate our ancestors being willing to set in motion the very risky and very scary actions that created this nation—a nation where we are free to plan and prepare and act according to our conscience and beliefs. On this July 4th, ask yourself, “What action am I avoiding that is necessary for my growth and the growth of my team?” Check all your fuse connections one last time, go over your spreadsheet if you must, then light the fuse. Action is necessary for growth, and it is the Bison Way.