The OSS fireplace that is running out of heat

There’s an old parable from Earl Nightingale that I think about every day in terms of the OSS industry and the business operations of Passionate About OSS.

Earl was a motivational speaker and author known for his inspiring teachings. He gained prominence in the 1950s and continued his work until his passing in 1989. One of his famous parables is the story of the fireplace giving heat. It’s a story I heard long ago, so I’m sure I won’t do it justice, but it goes something like this:

Imagine, if you will, you’re in a remote log cabin on a chilly winter evening. You’ve just come in from a blizzard. The cabin is cold and you desire warmth to stop your teeth from chattering. Taking pride of place in the  one-room cabin is a large fireplace. You stand there, shivering, waiting for the fireplace to generate heat. But alas, nothing happens. You begin to wonder why the fire is not providing the warmth you seek. You scream at the fireplace demanding it provide you the heat you so desperately desire.

Clearly though, the fireplace cannot give heat on its own. It requires your input. It requires your action. You must gather wood and kindling, carefully arranging them within the fireplace. You then need to create the spark to bring your wood-gathering efforts to life. You strike a match and soon the flames begin to dance. A crackling sound fills the room as the fire grows, spreading warmth and comfort throughout the cabin. The fireplace is now giving you all the heat you wanted and more even as the blizzard continues to rage outside.”

At face value, it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with an OSS consulting company does it?

However, the metaphor behind it is as profound in OSS and business as it is in life.  In a snapshot view, “You need to first deliver value (collecting the wood) and inspiration (lighting the match) in order to receive value in return (basking in the heat of the open fire).”

I translate this into a three phase process:

  1. The “collecting the wood” phase can often be long, arduous and often discouraging, like fumbling around in a blizzard looking for firewood. In the case of an OSS sales cycle or transformation or even creation of content like an OSS book, this phase can often take months or years. It requires you to take deliberate action, make sacrifices and persist in the face of challenges with a long-term outcome / vision in mind.
  2. The “lighting the match” phase is akin to the change management and evangelism that is required to get people excited about what you’re creating. There are often negative sentiments around OSS projects because of their legacy of under-delivering (like so many complex digital transformation projects across all industries). There’s no point collecting the wood if you’re unable to spark the fuel to life and subsequently stoking the fire.
  3. Many people just expect to just jump straight to the “warm and toasty” phase – expecting dreams, ambitions and goals to all be delivered without creating value first.

As I look at the tech industry today, there seem to be many layoffs occurring, and that’s from companies that appear to be wildly successful and still making large profits. The position of the global telco / OSS industry is arguably more dire.

As mentioned in an earlier article titled, “Telecommunications has reached its burning exchange moment,”

In a keynote speech at Mobile World Congress (MWC), Thierry Breton, the European Union’s internal market commissioner opined, “In the coming years, the whole industry will need to undergo a radical shift and revisit its business models. Some could describe it as a Schumpeterian moment. Industry will have to adapt to survive. Or, to put it more positively, adapt to succeed.”
Orange’s CEO Christel Heydemann then cited a survey of European telcos in which almost half of the polled chief execs said they do not expect their businesses to make it through another decade.

As profitability and business models decline, investment declines, projects decline and ultimately jobs / salaries decline. The wood in the fireplace is burning down, which leaves us at risk of losing that warm and toasty feeling.

The way I think about this parable every day is to ask myself how I can best create value – what wood to collect and how to ignite the fuel. The telco industry desperately needs us to find new fuel and new ways to ignite it.

On a more individual level, I occasionally have people I’ve never known reach out and ask for a job or to ask me to reach out to my network to see if someone can give them a job. I get that. If you’ve lost your job and desperately need a new one, it’s just like that feeling of coming in from the blizzard and needing heat – yelling at the fireplace to give you heat. The last thing you want to do is go back outside into the cold for hours to collect firewood.

Therefore, I encourage you to be collecting the firewood now, particularly if you’re in a job where you feel a blizzard could arrive at any time. Finding ways to contribute to  your network (and expand it), contribute to your customers, contribute to other people who might not be able to give an immediate return, to help others achieve their goals, to help them make connections they otherwise couldn’t make. Over the years, the more effort I’ve put into adding value to others, the more opportunities seem to come back, often in unexpected ways.

Put in the effort to build your own brand outside your employer’s brand. You’ll surely need it at some point in the future.

The mindset I’ve seen from many over the years of, “If they give me a pay-rise, then I’ll work harder,” is the same as yelling at the fireplace to deliver heat in my opinion. It’s the same for OSS vendors who seek to extract revenues from a declining industry without first thinking about how they can deliver new revenues or value to their telco clients. We have to collect the wood and light the match that leaves telcos with no doubt – that we’re “not just a #$%&ing cost centre.”

You might also like to ask yourself which of the three phases you’re thinking about each day?

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