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Fire

May 12, 2022

The match ran through the dark brown runway and spluttered to life, sparks leaving its tale to celebrate the birth of its short existence. My ten-year-old partner in crime Pete threw more dry oak leaves on the ground.

We’d found a perfect spot for our mini campfire. A hideout behind a small red ground cellar dug into the side of a hill at the edge of an ancient forest. Oak, alder, and birch trees stood ominously, their trunks bare from leaves that now laid on the ground waiting for the end.

Our eyes followed the match as it traveled through the air full of excitement ready to spread its wings and connect with a network of leaves and twigs. Once it finally reached the fuel it so craved you can imagine the joy as the yellow and orange flame danced onto one leaf, then to another, and soon the whole twig fest was one big fireball crackling and popping and singing the song of fire.

We threw more leaves into the fire and it made the smoke thick and dark and heavy as it rose up through the giant oak standing next to the cellar. The smile on our faces was priceless. Playing with fire was the most exciting pastime activity we could imagine.

We knew if we’d get caught that there was a hell to pay. And that made it even better.  We danced around the fire and threw more food into the belly of the ever-hungry monster.

“You crazy kids you’re going to burn down the whole forest.” We froze in an instant as two adults came running up the hill the other carrying a bucket of water. They’d seen the smoke rising up from behind the cellar and thought the forest was on fire. Which it would’ve been had we continued our little experiment.

The women threw the bucket of water and put out our fire and the man grabbed our arms and insisted to know where we lived. The payday had caught us and it was time to pay up, with interest.

We got dragged to our homes and they made us tell our parents what we’d done. My friend Pete got house arrest for a month. I got away with a week.

We were young, creative, experimental, and always looking for a way to escape boredom.

But we didn’t realize the magnitude of our actions could have.

We didn’t think of the bigger picture. The system we operated in. We’d started a fire behind an old shack made out of dry planks. The whole forest was littered with fuel for our fire. It was fire season and every possible thing that could burn, would. We didn’t know any mental models like Systems Thinking where you take into account how the whole system works, not just one part of it.

We only had the barebones of a Second-Order thinking mental model. What would happen if we created the fire? We might get caught, we might burn the forest down, we could get house arrest, our parents could end up paying for our mistakes for the rest of their lives, and houses in that forest could burn down and the people with them.

And we definitely didn’t have a mental model for thinking through the likelihood (Probabilistic) of those consequences. Maybe if we’d had the Tradeoffs and Consequences mental model available in our limited tool pack we could’ve thought things through. What was the likelihood of us getting caught? Or the forest burning down. What was the level of consequences that would come from that? Pretty high, right? Was the tradeoff worth it? The feeling of excitement versus our families losing their homes because they had to pay up the damage the fire could’ve cost.

Now you can’t expect a 10-year-old to be able to think this way, or can you? Can you expect a thirty-something?

I’m turning forty in a few months and while I use some mental models, I have plenty more to learn. I’m still making mistakes and learning. Some of my mistakes hurt my brain more than any physical injury I’ve sustained. But they will heel. And they will leave scars. And those scars will remind me to analyse my mistakes and do my best to learn from them. What do I need to do differently next time?

A black and white photo of the author Jussi's smiling face with shortcut hair and a short beardJussi Tarvainen

Former pro snowboarder. Author at night. Multi(failed)-entrepreneur. And mostly an awesome designer (said, my five-year-old son).

plenty more loot in the vault

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