“We have been trained to see what others overlook.” This phrase, spoken by Bobby Corrigan at January’s Purdue Pest Management Conference, really struck a chord with me. Bobby made the comment as part of a discussion about the need for pest management professionals to be “observational biologists.” In this month’s cover story, Bobby further delves into this subject. He makes the point that pest control has evolved into a profession where service technicians bring with them their knowledge of pest biology and behavior to pinpoint infestations and develop customized solutions.
Bobby also calls this strategy “The Sherlock Holmes Approach to Pest Control,” a nod to the famed fictional detective created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. “As I read Sherlock Holmes, first as a student, then as a staff member, and later [as a consultant] I was constantly seeing parallels between what [Doyle] would say about paying attention at crime scenes and the work we do as pest management professionals. You have to be — and you are being paid to be — paying attention,” Bobby said during the Purdue conference.
In the cover story, Bobby related how his experiences working with the late, famed ant expert Dr. John Klotz taught him to bring a laser-like observational focus to a pest control account — much like Holmes would to a crime scene. As Bobby noted, “John taught me that to understand ant problems around homes and yards, you should first keenly observe the specific ‘lines’ that exist for a particular property,” including the linear edges of the sidewalks surrounding the house, the edge lines of mulched gardens and landscaping, driveway edge lines leading into garages, overhead utility lines connecting to attic soffits, air conditioner lines penetrating siding and the vertical edge lines of the bark on trees.
Bobby’s comments also got me thinking about the parallels between Sherlock Holmes and pest management professionals. Here are just a few I noted.
ATTENTION TO DETAIL. Holmes was a master at finding fingerprints and minute traces of blood at crime scenes. Pest management professionals identify not only the obvious signs of an infestation, but the subtle ones too, like hard-to-discover structural deficiencies that can allow pest access.
TECHNOLOGY EMBRACERS. The 2013 PBS documentary “How Sherlock Holmes Changed the World” noted that Holmes worked as a detective “in an era when eyewitness testimony and ‘smoking gun’ evidence were needed to convict…Sherlock Holmes used chemistry, bloodstains and fingerprints to catch offenders.” PMPs don’t simply fall back on what worked previously, but instead integrate the latest products and technologies in order to do their jobs better and more efficiently.
AN ‘ART & SCIENCE’ APPROACH. One of Holmes’ charms was his unorthodox approach to crime scene investigations that sometimes played a bit “fast and loose” with accepted protocols of the time. Holmes understood that while the science behind crime scene investigations was important, so too was the art of being resourceful and thinking outside the box. PMPs also understand the art of pest control and sometimes find themselves in situations where necessity is the mother of all inventions. It’s not uncommon for them to introduce “hacks” — the creation of new devices or the modification of preexisting devices — in order to solve a problem.
I like a lot of what Bobby had to say, both at the Purdue conference and in this month’s cover story, and it’s great to see that many pest management professionals view themselves as on-the-job pest detectives. It’s also another reminder that the job of a pest management professional is really what one makes of it; those who embrace their role as an “observational biologist” may find it to be a long-term, fulfilling profession.