What Wasps, Fires and Grown Men Screaming Can Teach Us About Solving Problems - Travis Robertson

What Wasps, Fires and Grown Men Screaming Can Teach Us About Solving Problems

“We should have captured this on video!”

That was the first thing out of our mouths when it was all over. Sure, the world would have seen me and my brother screaming like little girls at a Justin Beiber concert. But it would have made for great video.

It all started a few weeks ago when I noticed a number of wasps flying around in our backyard. At first, I didn’t think much of it. But then they started showing up in our house.

My wife, Lisa, and I couldn’t figure out where they were coming from. We just knew that it was a problem. So I walked the perimeter of the house and looked for a nest. I checked the trees, I checked underneath a balcony, I even looked at our neighbors homes just to be safe – nothing. Just a bunch of wasps with no nest in sight.

So we went back to suffering with a problem we had no clue how to fix.

A few days later, my brother came over to watch football with me. We were enjoying the Titans game when a wasp flew out of the fireplace into the room. It turns out they had built a nest in our chimney.

Now, I really only know two facts about wasps:

  1. Wasps don’t like their nests messed with.
  2. Wasps sting.

However, I don’t like my nest messed with either and they were annoying me and my lovely wife. It was time to fix the problem.

My brother and I evaluated our three options:

  1. Call the landlord and let her deal with. Given that it was Sunday, we knew it would take a day or two to get it resolved.
  2. Call an exterminator and send the bill to the landlord. Again, tough to find an exterminator on Sunday during football season.
  3. Light a fire. This seemed the obvious option. After all, what could go wrong?

We grabbed one of those quick-start logs, placed it in the fireplace, grabbed a couple of rolled-up magazines as backup weaponry, opened the flue and quickly lit a fire.

All hell broke loose. Wasps started dropping into the fireplace. Roughly eight of them escaped. My brother and I ran around the room like banshees trying to swat them without getting stung. It was awesome.

Now, I can’t say that lighting a fire is the approved method for removing wasps from your chimney – but it worked.

And I learned seven valuable lessons for dealing with problems in your life – let’s take a look!

Lesson #1 – Problems Usually Start Small

A wasp here, a wasp there. Just kill it and move on.

An upset client here, an upset client there. No big deal. You can’t please everyone, right?

Sometimes it really is no big deal. Other times, there’s a problem you’re not seeing that needs to be fixed before it grows into a nightmare. If you can catch it when it’s small, you can save a lot of time, money, and headaches.

If something seems amiss, it probably is. Pause for a second to evaluate whether the signs you’re seeing point to a larger unseen problem before dismissing it.

Lesson #2 – Problems Don’t Go Away on Their Own

If you recognize there’s a problem, don’t expect it to go away on it’s own.

Maybe it’s a problem employee. Maybe it’s a problem client. Maybe it’s a problem with your processes. Whatever it is, don’t expect the problem to right itself without your involvement. Be proactive.

Lesson #3 – Determine the Source of the Problem

Knowing that there’s a problem and knowing the cause of the problem are two different things.

I knew we had a wasp problem. What I didn’t know was what was causing the problem which meant that I couldn’t fix it. Simply saying, “We have a problem,” is usually stating the obvious. Work at trying to find the source of the problem and don’t just treat the symptoms.

It may take a bit of time before the problem becomes evident. Keep at it – it’s not always obvious.

Lesson #4 – Evaluate the Possible Solutions

Every problem generally has a range of possible solutions. Work through them before making a decision. Weigh the pros and cons of each and discuss them as a team where necessary. Seek the advice of others.

Before lighting a fire, we sought the advice of those who came before us. We Googled “wasp nest in chimney.” Also, remember that some decisions shouldn’t take a long time. As in our situation, sometimes the best choice is obvious.

Lesson #5 – Keep Fear in Perspective

Were we afraid of getting stung? Yep. But it seemed worse to live with an entire nest of wasps in our chimney and run the risk of being attacked while waiting for someone else to fix the problem.

In reality, we knew that if we could get the fire started quickly and keep escapees to a minimum, the risk would be a lot smaller than hundreds of live wasps that could continue to venture into the house. We put the fear into perspective.

Make sure that you’re more concerned about not fixing a problem than you are of the short-term conflict involved in the resolution.

Lesson #6 – Just Light the Fire

In other words, get it over with quickly. Very few people like conflict so they try to avoid it for as long as possible. Remember Lesson #2. Problems don’t go away on their own.

If you know the right course of action, don’t delay the inevitable. Just light the fire and deal with the fall out. It won’t get any easier if you put it off.

Lesson #7 – Revisit the Problem Area Frequently to Prevent a Recurrence

Apparently, wasps aren’t smart. They built a nest in a chimney. I assumed that after the first fire they learned their lesson. However, the next day, I noticed a few flying outside the chimney.

As a result of not wanting to give them any ground to start over, we continued to light fires every few days. The wasps have now moved on to another location and I don’t have to think about the problem very often. However, had I only lit that one fire, it’s possible they would have returned. We had to apply consistent pressure for a while to make sure the problem was really gone.

Do You Have Wasps in Your Chimney?

Problems are going to arise in business and in life. It’s not a matter of if, but when. Just follow the steps above and you’ll be able to quickly address and fix them before they become disasters.

And one more thing: capture it on video.

Share Your Thoughts

How do you deal with problems? Do you see any steps missing from the list? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Photo Credit: Samucs

Leave a Reply 12 comments

Kenny Silva Reply

I love #6. Just light the fire. Too often we’re reluctant to get in there and take care of the problem. We want to rationalize allowing the problem to continue. “It’s not that big a deal.”, “It’ll sort itself out.”, “Someone else will fix that.” Those are all dangerous ways of passing the buck. Sorry if you see a blog post come up in the next few days titled, “Just light the fire.” I’ll give you credit. 😉

    Travis Robertson Reply

    HAHA! I would consider it an honor. 🙂

    We are really good rationalizers sometimes. Of course it only ends up making the problem worse.

Maynard Dueck Reply

Thanks! Your imagery is an effective tool in this post! The one thing I noticed that wasn’t directly mentioned was Zander’s rule #6 (don’t take yourself so *&#% seriously!). The image you described implied it though! Great stuff, thanks again!

    Travis Robertson Reply

    Thanks! You’re right. We do take ourselves too seriously sometimes. Glad my word picture helped. 🙂

    I really do wish we had that on video. I probably should have made an additional lesson: “Lesson #8 – Grab the Video Camera.”

Courtenay Rogers Reply

Ha. Ha. Ha. I am literally picturing y’all running around screaming like little girls. Great analogy, by the way. I have a few wasps in my fireplace I need to take care of…..

    Travis Robertson Reply

    LOL! We really were screaming like little girls. It was quite funny.

    Good luck with your “wasps” – when all else fails, just light a fire!

Anonymous Reply

I hate that you had wasps, Travis, but I’m glad you turned the unfortunate situation into a teaching moment. Great story and excellent points. I’m with Kenny – “just light the fire” is great advice. I liken it to ripping the bandaid off. Sometimes, to hearken the Nike slogan, you have to just do it. Seth Godin had a great post today about the excuses we have for not making things happen. It’s way too easy to do that. If you want to get things done, you have to just light the stinkin’ fire!

    Travis Robertson Reply

    I’m glad my wasp moment turned into a teachable moment. 🙂 I’ll check out the Seth Godin post – thanks for the tip on that!

    Perhaps I should make “Light the fire!” a slogan here…hmmm….

Joey Strawn Reply

I had the same problem with spiders in my garage. That’s not an analogy for clients, I actually had spiders in my garage and instead of calling an exterminator I deemed it appropriate to take care of it myself. Keep in mind I’m deathly afraid of spiders. Fast forward to me running around screaming like a little girl in my garage and you have the right idea.

I love these tips and look forward to using them when the needs arises. Thanks!

    Travis Robertson Reply

    I am also terribly afraid of spiders – no idea why. They’re just creepy little things. Ironically, Spider Man was one of my favorite super heroes growing up. I’m sure there’s a whole world of fun that a therapist could have with that.

    Glad you enjoyed the post!

TherExtras Reply

Well done, Travis! We have wasp nests under our eaves and can’t remember the last time one got inside. Here we like ’em as they are the natural enemy (eaters) of the dreaded web worms that kill the pecan trees. And yes, I did get the real point of your post. Excellent advice. Barbara

    Travis Robertson Reply

    Thanks, Barbara! I was okay with the wasps until I realized they were in the chimney. 🙂 I’m not generally a bug hater. Unless you count spiders in that mix. I hate spiders.

    Glad you enjoyed the post! 🙂

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