Starting a Fire

We Have Started the Fire.

Do you know how to start a fire?  I am not talking about charcoal briquettes, or the use of combustion material such as lighter fluid, gasoline, or those special wax products that can be used in your fireplace, no propane or gas is used either.

I’m talking about the fires we make in the woods when we go camping. It is okay if you do not know how.  In fact, my life has had quite a few times when my boy scout experiences have been a benefit to more than my family or those with whom I am camping.  My son and I have made many campfires for cooking out or roasting marsh mellows. Before this, I had camped out without a tent and used the fire for warmth.  Also to keep away the vermin while we slept.  We have started fires when the material may be damp, but that is not to suggest that it is easy to start a fire even when the material is not damp, surprisingly, it is not so easy.

It is even more difficult if you do not have a source for the spark.  In this case, we will say we have matches, and that we are not using flint and steel to start some other survivor type of fire starting. To be successful, we will still need to follow some broad rules.  We do not just go into the woods and get some logs and stack them up and strike a match and viola, campfire!  To be sure you can try that over and over again, but the results will be disappointing.  To be successful will require we start in the small, specifically small key actions, and small material.  When you see how this works, you will understand how from small things large fires are born.

First Things First

We need to prepare the area we wish to have the fire.  Then we need to find things that are easy to ignite, leaves for example.  Leaves catch quickly but will not burn long.  Then we will need a material that is slower to catch fire but will burn a little longer.  We call this kindling, very small sticks.  We will vertically stack this up very carefully. The leaves are in a bundle and the sticks are stacked like a teepee.  We will build these sticks vertically around the leaves connecting them at the peak.  We will leave a gap that will allow us to get the match into the center.  It is important to not put too much material here.  Too many leaves or too many sticks, will reduce the space for air, equally important.

Before we attempt to fire this thing up, we will also need to ensure we have additional material near us when the fire begins to take form.  We will need more small, intermediate, and perhaps some medium to large-sized pieces near where we are working. We will feed this to the fire as the fire gains momentum or strength.


When this starts to catch, we do not need to be rummaging through the forest to ensure we have the material we need to continue to build this fire to the point we desire.  When we have this done, we can now put the match to the leaves in the open space.  As we put the ignition source into the center of our fire we watch how things are catching on fire, and consumed. As we see signs of sustainability we put some larger twigs.  Still not logs, onto the fire in a way that still allows for good airflow.  As the strength of the fire increases, so too does the size of the material we put onto the fire.  Always keep in mind how the fire moves, and the need for air to keep the fire growing.

Relationship to Product Development?

So what the hell was the point of a blog about the fire on a product development site?  Well, first of all, I have helped many people out in the woods to build their fires and would like to help others that do not have the benefit of being old or having parents and friends that enjoy roughing it in the woods in the olden days, as well as being in scouts.

The other reason is to point out how this is not much different from developing things, and even people.  It is not prudent to throw everything at developing the product, there is much we do not know, or worse yet, we may think we know.  We need space for air, in this case, learning and variation in the rate of accomplishment.  To that end, we should proceed with some measure of care. The same is true for people.  We cannot just deluge a person with new things and information, that approach reminds me of a saying from a professor in my undergraduate degree taking a class over the summer to ensure I would pass the following year in the fall. They said summer school is like drinking water from a fire hose, you open your mouth and take all you can and hope that it does not kill you.

Like starting a fire and staging material, we will need to do just enough planning.  That goes for the material staging, and work staging to the degree that we need.  We need what we need when we need it.  The same is true for learning, for those that are new to this work.  We will need to prioritize what they need to know and learn through the work, lest we end up treating them to a drink from a fire hose.  To paraphrase Albert Einstein, we should plan as much as needed and no more (“Make everything as simple as possible, but no simpler.)”

We have to be patient and work with the situation as things develop. This is true for fire, people, and product development.  We respond to situations as they arise taking whatever prudent action we deem appropriate.  We cannot pile the logs up and expect the fire to start. We cannot pile up the requirements and attempt to build the product in one pass- there is learning that will happen and that will require us to adjust all manner and types of parameters we encounter.

There is much to learn from making a fire. Fires seldom just start, and without some catalyst take more effort than we think to bring to fruition. We will need to be diligent, patient, and respond to circumstances as we become aware.


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