The term “firefighting” is one that is used broadly these days, and can refer to a reactive response to any urgent situation. Your IT team can firefight a system outage, your PR team can firefight a bad story flying around social media and your customer service team can firefight a negative review. Firefighting is necessary, and something that every company has to do, at least some of the time. But—and here’s the key—it doesn’t always have to be that way.
In their book about the 2008 financial crisis, Firefighting, Ben Bernanke (former US Chair of the Federal Reserve), Timothy Geithner (former US Secretary of the Treasury) and Henry M. Paulson (former US Secretary of the Treasury) make exactly this argument. Writing for Politico, the pioneers of the American response to the worst US economic crisis since the Great Depression had this to say:
“The U.S. government was not well prepared for the financial conflagration of 2008, which helps explain why this fire burned so hot, why the efforts to contain it often seemed so messy, and even why that response became so wildly unpopular. Better preparation could have created better outcomes.”