Curiosity Killed the Naysayer

Why members of Team Rubicon thrive in uncharted territory.

One of the questions I receive frequently from David Burke, Vince Moffitt, and Dennis Clancey at Team Rubicon is “Why?” followed closely by Jake Wood with “What caused this outcome?” These leaders have a high Curiosity Quotient.

Members navigate uncharted territory in the wake of the Hidden Pines Fire in Bastrop, TX.

Members navigate uncharted territory in the wake of the Hidden Pines Fire in Bastrop, TX.

The other day, I dashed, albeit slowly, out of the office after a snarky retort to Jake, “I am leaving before you ask me a question to which I do not know the answer.” I scurried about, my fearful flight over taking my fight, not realizing the inconsistency or implications of my actions as a member of Team Rubicon.

The absence of information scares most organizations, whereas Team Rubicon thrives in this dark abyss of confusion and chaos.

When an answer is unknown or a solution is not clear, we make bold decisions, escalating from zero to aggressive in a moment’s notice, and we simply adjust our course if we smash into a wall at 100 mph. Some would call this recon by fire, others would refer to it as irresponsible, but it is really just unbridled curiosity. Our clearly defined mission allows us to kick into high gear. We have committed time, treasure, and talent to this task, and our teammates are empowered to explore, discover, and experiment. When given this latitude, great accomplishments are made and we progress as an organization. Intellectual curiosity among leaders and practitioners is paramount to our success as an organization.

Leaders question and teams discover.

Operation: Double Trouble, Region VI, 2015


One of the most basic yet cumbersome and complicated challenges of leadership is personnel accountability. It is even more complex and critical amongst volunteer disaster response personnel.

Team Rubicon and Salamander Technologies are at the forefront of providing technology tools to tackle this task. We trained in advance with Salamander and other technologies, but we had to wait for a massive response to really push our operational skills and processes.

Jaime, Justin, James, and Windy, developed and led our first use at scale (over 200 personnel total and 80 at any given day), maintaining real-time accountability of volunteers in the field. Since this was our first operational use of Salamander at this scale, they were basically operating in the dark, with minimal guidance and limited training, and they learned by discovery. They pressed, clicked, and oopsied until they found a way.

We shared their discoveries with the next team that headed out to Operation: Palmetto Punch, Region IV, 2015, where Carol and TJ solidified our processes. The team maintained detail and constant personnel accountability and produced meaningful personnel products for the leadership team, our organization, and for the stakeholders within the affected community.

Leaders challenge and teams disrupt.

Operation: Tenzing, Nepal, 2015

Operation: Tenzing

Our military and emergency response heritage pushed us towards centralized demobilization with a significant face-to-face component. Our members are our most treasured asset and deserve the respect of a reasonable reception. What we do not want is the mind-numbing arbitrary slide show overload up which only frustrates and does not accommodate the lives, emotions, and needs of our teammates.

In previous international operations, returning teammates were flown through LA with a stop in the National Office for our reception, debrief, and processing. Tenzing was the first operation in which we operated two demobilization and reception hubs, one in LA and another in New York where 45 members from TR USA were properly debriefed and welcomed home.

Developed and led by volunteers, the effort disrupted our own organization’s conventional way of thinking about what is usually viewed as frustrating process and transformed it into an awesome welcoming home.

Leaders identify interests and teams diffuse tension.

Operation: Rising Eagle, Region VI, 2014


During mass air mobilization, we fly Greys shirts from around the nation (and sometimes from the United Kingdom) into the disaster zone to surge resources and support. In Arkansas, we did not use standardized air travel days for our volunteers flying in and out of the disaster zone. Rather than designate Sunday and Wednesday as inbound and outbound days, we flew teammates in daily. This created an insane and unreasonable amount of friction on the ground for the Incident Command Staff who had to orchestrate complicated logistics movements with limited transportation assets and drivers. Sorry team, I owe you a drink for that one.

The team on the ground identified two competing interests: surging personnel as quickly as possible to the scene and the operational impact of logistics coordination and in-processing.

Operation: Humble Trooper, Region X, 2014, and now reaffirmed on Operation: Double Trouble, Region VI. Movement days are the simplest way to ease tension between geography, fatigue, and time, while accommodating logistics, and operational requirements. We learned this lesson at least once, tested twice, and now it’s a way of TR deployment life.

Leaders ask incisive questions. They probe. They dig deep into details and demand due diligence.

“The curious mind is constantly alert and exploring, seeking material for thought, as a vigorous and healthy body is on the qui vive for nutriment. Eagerness for experience, for new and varied contacts, is found where wonder is found. Such curiosity is the only guarantee of the acquisition of the primary facts upon which inference must base itself.” – John Dewey

We are disrupting industries, expanding our capabilities, and growing our membership faster every day. We doubled in strength since June of 2014. We’re now a hulking red and grey beast capable of taking on any challenge Mother Nature throws at us.

Team Rubicon is shaping a generation and impacting the trajectory of a national community. We are almost six years into this experiment, and there are more hypotheses to test, assertions to refine, and best practices to identify. Ask penetrating questions, test bold ideas, and demand quantifiable results. So, what’s on the agenda for tomorrow?

Join the discussion. What leadership habit do you strive to develop? What should we investigate, explore, and test next? What commonly held belief do we need to challenge?

  • Reflection

    A Better Tomorrow

    A volunteer responding to tornadoes in Ohio gets a glimpse at the hidden value of the work Greyshirts do.

  • Preparedness

    How to Prepare Your Pets for Disaster

    From leashes for Fido to carriers for Kitty, here are our top disaster preparedness for pets tips to add to your emergency planning now.

  • Feature Story

    Serving World Health Means Innovating

    From Haiti to Ukraine, for World Health Day, we look at where we've delivered disaster relief and humanitarian aid over the past 14 years, and how far we have to go.

Read More Stories