the ceo magazine, manage employees,
Kathy Palokoff, Raoul Davis Jr., and Dr. Paul Eder, Authors, Firestarters: How Innovators, Instigators, and Initiators Can Inspire You to Ignite Your Own Life

How can you ignite, fuel, and accelerate both yourself and your organization? What drives “Firestarters” -- people who create new things, disrupt conventional thinking, and start successful businesses, non-profits, and movements? We chose the Firestarter analogy in order to go beyond the business definition of entrepreneurs and capture the actions of ordinary people who light up the world by doing extraordinary things.  We profiled men and women across the globe representing diverse industries, generations and ethnic heritages -- both widely known public figures and behind-the-scenes change makers.  We also extensively reviewed research from a variety of disciplines to gain an understanding of why some people become Firestarters and others do not.

Our conclusion is that when the right combination of personal attitude meets the right situation, a Firestarter is born. The result is an individual whose passion and motivation dwarf those of typical people.  Additionally, we found several other key insights that help us understand what starts, feeds, and spreads a fire in individuals and organizations, and how to fan that fire in others.

Insight #1: There is a Firestarter in all of us.

We all have an inner Firestarter. There are characteristics we each possess that can be amplified to achieve our goals. For example, Firestarters are more resilient to potential setbacks than others because they are constantly learning from their mistakes and choose to move forward with confidence.  They consciously decide not to be undermined by naysayers.

Individuals can chose to ignore the Firestarter within and lead very happy lives. But people who have a strong desire to make a difference generally will not be happy unless they can innovate, instigate, and initiate.  No matter what their background, they share a desire to put their Firestarter potential into action in ways that are personally motivating.  

Firestarters have faith in themselves and a sense of higher purpose. For some,  this is driven by a religious or spiritual foundation.  For others, it comes from their mission itself and a passion for change.

Insight #2: We are not all born equal.

There are multiple elements that help people become Firestarters. Igniters or situational motivators spark the fire and include freedom, talent, mindset, passion, and introspection.  Fuels or environmental resources feed the fire and include prestige, opportunity, wealth, luck, and social connections.  Accelerants or context-driven actions spread the fire and include focus, collaboration, competition, sweat equity, and support.

It is easier to be a Firestarter if you can access most of these elements.  Many people have some, but not all.  Some people waste what they have. Others never have the desire to access what will make them great. And still others claw and scratch their way to the greatest impact even though they are starting with fewer motivators and resources.

We discovered that how you are raised has a huge impact on whether or not you become a Firestarter, but it is not as simple as having a “good” versus “bad” childhood. Some of the Firestarters we talked with had non-supportive and controlling parents, while others were encouraged from an early age to pursue their dreams.  Those with non-supportive parents found encouragement in other places and a core strength because their desire for freedom was so high.

While all Firestarters are not born equal,  they share a need to have other people involved in order to fight extinguishers that can put out their fire.  They need supporters to help nurture, motivate, and protect them so they can thrive.

Insight #3:  Firestarter power is ignited by Innovators, Instigators, and Initiators.

During the course of our interviews and research review, we discovered three different types of Firestarters. Innovators create things. Instigators disrupt things. Initiators begin things.

In addition to developing an assessment tool, we asked people to self-identify what type of Firestarter they were. The results were fascinating.  Some people highly related to one type while others had balance in all three areas. Additionally, most Firestarters move between their types depending on different points in their life and specific goals and tasks.

The implication for both individuals and organizations is important.  A team made up of people who create and disrupt may have difficulty accomplishing its goals because it lacks Initiators. Removing Instigators from an organization can result in a company losing its competitive edge because it has too few people who challenge the status quo.    For individuals to accomplish goals, they may need to partner with a different type of Firestarter.

Regardless of whether you  are an Innovator, Instigator, or Initiator, the world is a much better place because of Firestarters.  Encouraging your own Firestarter and helping others find their fire is essential to inspire business growth and improve life in your community and beyond.

About the Authors

Kathy Palokoff is a founder and partner of  CUSTOMERicity, goFirestarter and Joe Squared. She is a serial entrepreneur and educator, helping individuals and organizations ignite, fuel, and accelerate their growth.

Raoul Davis Jr. is a partner at Ascendant Group, which helps CEOs, retired athletes, and executive leaders dramatically increase their visibility through CEO branding. Find him on Twitter: @CEO_Branding

Paul Eder, PhD is a Lead Consultant with The Center for Organizational Excellence, Inc. He advises organizations on optimization of organizational structures, technology, data practices, and work environments.

Together, they are the authors of the new book Firestarters: How Innovators, Instigators, and Initiators Can Inspire You to Ignite Your Own Life.


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