When I was 13, I set my room on fire for the first time. I had found an electric fan that I assumed had been wired together by my uncle (and electronics guru). When I plugged it in, there was a loud pop, some sparks and a flaming piece of the switch flew to the floor and started burning the carpet.
I took off running downstairs for the fire extinguisher in the kitchen. My mom (who happened to be in the room) calmly walked over and put the fire out by stepping on it. It turns out that the fan had been wired together by my 11 year old brother, who had hooked a 12 volt automotive fan into a regular household wiring cord with an automotive switch, shorting the connection between the two wires.
Anyway, the point is that, while my mom’s shoe was definitely not the perfect fire fighting tool, it was the best thing for the job. By the time I had gotten the fire extinguishers and then figured out how to turn it on, the fire would have spread on the carpet and done quite a bit more damage.
There are times where the best tool to use is the one that lets you accomplish the task immediately–even if it is slightly awkward to use.
Originally published March 15, 2007.
Tyler Ingram says
Now one thing that most people don’t know is that there are 3 types of Fire Extinguishers. Well up here in Canada anyway, though I don’t see why the US or anywhere else would have totally different ones.
They are also rated A, B and C. Each one is meant for a different type of fire but the one that the majority of homes would have would be meant for all 3 type.
You wouldn’t use the liquid based one on an electrical fire kind of thing right?
Good point. I’m obviously not suggesting that every fire should be extinguished by getting a relative to step on it. :) In this case the item was no longer plugged in and it was only the carpet that was burning.
My point is that sometimes people get so excited about using (or finding) the perfect tool for a particular problem. As they look for the right tool the problem gets bigger and they would be better off using whatever simple method is at their disposal to immediately solve the issue.
Good point about the fire extinguishers. There are different types and you can hurt yourself if you don’t know what you are doing.
Juggling Frogs says
I take it she had a lot of experience putting out electrical fires. It sound as though the whole family enjoyed creative wiring projects.
We could all learn from your mother. She focused on solving the PROBLEM, not on the SOLUTION.
Zoltán Cserei says
We Hungarians have a saying for that. When someone acts like that, we say that he doesn’t see the forest because of the tree. He doesn’t see the obvious because of the immaterial.
Nice points presented here.
Wish you the best,
Your mother sounds like a very innovative person!
I am often guilty of that: trying to find the perfect solution when what I have in hand is more than adequate. Good way of wasting time unfortunately. :(
nice story. and it gives us a perfect example of how we sometimes waste ‘precious time’ looking for the ‘perfect tools’ (i.e. a fire extinguisher or the best gtd application).
when in fact we can do with finishing priority items with our existing resources (i.e shoes or pen and paper).
i often find myself checking out and testing different applications to see if they will suit my needs, simplify the way i do things. but if i look back and see how much time i spent evaluating these tools and actually working on my tasks, i often find that i waste a chunk of my time on these trials and errors.
i guess it best thing to remember is to think first before you act. your mom surely did :)
good point I keep wasting my times looking for the perfect tool for projects or problems that some times I don’t even need to address
I’ll keep your history in my mind thank you
I.e., that fast food receipt you stuck in your pocket – to record in your finances later ;-) -might just be the best place to capture a note from the conversation you had at the restaurant.
Charles McPhate says
What I found amusing about this article: “I set my room on fire for the first time.”
Um…have there been other times you’ve set your room on fire? Is this something you do regularly? :-)
Mark Shead says
@Charles – When I was growing up I caught my room on fire on two different occasions. :)
Very good article. I too am guilty of spinning my wheels looking for the right tool.
I think the trick is to know when it is beneficial to spend the time looking for the right tool or tools, especially when that tool is used repetitively and will enable you to make up the time lost searching for it.
Still, I sometimes find it difficult to know when to use the tools I have or find a better solution.