Fire is a non-linear problem.

The initial temperature. The airflow. The humidity. The stacking geometry. These are all variables that affect whether the wood will ignite and how hot it will get.

The thing about non-linear problems is they are often counter-intuitive.

Taking the fire example, you place a small log in the fire place, and some crumpled newspaper below it, you light the newspaper, it chars the wood, and before you know it, the newspaper has burnt up, and the log isn’t burning. The fire is dead.

It seems as if you can’t light a single small log, you wouldn’t be able to light MORE wood. However, if the wood is stacked, a reaction on the surface is happening as the air rises up, as the flame from the newspaper hits the lowest log, more energy is released heating the air more, which makes that air hit the logs stacked higher and ignite them more as well. As they do, they release tiny little embers that fall down the stack, which makes the air at the bottom start out warmer every time, and eventually you have a self-perpetuating combustion cycle.

There are many things that run counter-intuitive in life some, but not all of them may be:

  • Trying to keep a business too small thinking it will be easier.
  • Talking about yourself instead of talking about others.
  • Showing up in the right places, which may run counter to where you believe those places are.

We extrapolate our experiences constantly to areas where we have less expertise, but more often than not the world is non-linear in nature, which means our assumptions, beliefs and expectations are more likely to be wrong than right. That’s why doing the work is so important, it fills in the data and the parts of the curve that are missing so that we can see things more clearly.