Fire ecology seems impossible. It’s the process of burning an ecosystem in order to revitalize it—but isn’t that backward? Basic biology teaches us that plants live thanks to photosynthesis: water + light = growth. No fire involved. Yet scientists have observed the phenomenon for centuries, and it’s absolutely true—fire, with all its destructive power, is a necessary component of any thriving ecosystem.
Maybe, just maybe, this “backward” process has something to teach us all. As friends, spouses, parents, coworkers, leaders—even as an organization—some short-term discomfort, a serious challenge, a controlled burn, might be the key to thriving.
During a recent trip abroad, I was pushed way outside my comfort zone. In an unfamiliar country, I knew there would be a language barrier, but I didn’t anticipate just how challenging it would be.
Like any good millennial, my cell phone isn’t just my safety net—it’s my go-to in just about every situation. But the $30/day my cell provider charged for international data was enough to convince me to put it away. Then I realized just how dependent I had become—I had no idea how to navigate a foreign city without Google Maps to guide me.
I had no choice, of course. I had to figure it out. So after a bit of wandering—and discovering the power of an atlas—I mastered the public transit system, and that uncomfortable experience made me a better, slightly less phone-dependent person. A small victory, to be sure, but facing my uncertainty head on is the only reason I had the opportunity to grow.
You 2.0: Rebel with a cause
On a recent trip to see a client, our small team had quite the drive in front of us—five hours to be exact—and we were left searching for ways to pass the time. After exhausting our Spotify playlists, we turned to podcasts. One of my favorites was an episode of Hidden Brain called “Rebel With a Cause.”
It felt serendipitous. This episode took a deep dive into research about non-conformists paving the way to innovation. These individuals, whether they know it or not, practice what is called “positive deviance,” leading to greater creativity and significant breakthroughs. Professor Franzesca Gino discovered that high-achieving non-conformists have learned the value of boundaries rather than rules. They lead by breaking the rules in order to shift the boundaries forward and outward. They pay little attention to the status quo—and in the process, they create the new status quo. These “rebels with a cause” are almost universally heralded as geniuses, industry disruptors, and groundbreaking leaders in their fields.
Personality definition: Expressing your authentic self
There is great comfort in the familiar. We’re all drawn to people who dress and act like us, who laugh at the same jokes, who have the same political views or similar musical taste because it’s comfortable. It’s easy. It’s the path of no resistance.
Carnegie Dartlet isn’t built on that kind of comfort. Instead, we push our clients to learn who they truly are, to move away from the herd, to do anything but fall in line with the competition. While the process is rarely comfortable, our personality research can be the driving force to a truly authentic result—and the results are always incredible. Like a decaying ecosystem springing back to life after a wildfire, walking headlong into our greatest challenges, facing down uncertainty, and breaking the rules to push the boundaries might be the key to uncovering the very best of ourselves and our organizations. The fire of discomfort exposes our authentic selves and allows us to thrive.
So go ahead: Start a fire. Experience something new. Break the rules. Push the boundaries. And discover who you really are.