The Value of Flexible Thinking

Have you heard of the Mann Gulch Fire?

In the mountains of Montana there was a wild fire. In those days every fire was put out. Every fire was worked on. So naturally, firefighters were sent to put out the fire at Mann Gulch.

The wind from the river and the intense heat created a serious risk as it moved to the north slope. It was moving fast and the foreman instructed his crew to drop their packs and their tools, as they were running uphill to escape the fire. Firemen know their packs and tools are critical to their job, so some didn't drop them.

What happened next confounded them all.

The foreman, Wagner Dodge, began burning the ground around him – throwing matches into the dry grass right where he was.

Mind you, no one had ever seen this before. No one had ever had training like this. In fact, as Dodge yelled for his guys to come his way, most didn't. It wasn't just a matter of trusting their leader – it looked like he had lost his mind.

You can read about the Mann Gulch fire in the book Young Men and Fire.

If I'm right, it's the first case of an escape fire – where you remove “fuel” for the other fire coming at you by starting another fire. It's what Dodge did and as he lay down in the burnt earth, the first moved around and over him – without consuming him.

He was one of three folks that survived, out of sixteen.

Flexible Thinking & the Mann Gulch Fire

As you read the story, what stood out to you?

Did you think – “What if they'd let the wildfire burn itself out?” These days not every fire is fought. Thirteen lives might have been spared if we'd thought about things differently then.

Or maybe you thought – “Why wouldn't everyone drop their packs and equipment and run?” The data on firefighters is pretty clear. Most don't drop packs or heavy equipment. More firefighters have died with their packs on and their saws or other heavy gear in their hands than anyone would want to admit.

It's not shocking when you think about it. They are trained. Crazy trained. Over and over. And they know their packs and tools are critical. So it doesn't surprise me that when running away from any fire, they'd be hesitant.

And maybe you thought, “Why didn't the guys follow their leader?” Ask yourself this – if your boss asked you to do something that looked absolutely ridiculous and dangerous on top of it, would you do it?

Whether you thought one or all of these things, you likely realized my point. Our thinking – our default thinking, training and decision making – is hard to adjust, and even harder when in moments of stress.

We all have shortcuts we use to help us make decisions, and for the most part, it helps us. Except when it doesn't. And that's when we need to learn flexible thinking.

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The Value of Flexible Thinking

At this point you may be wondering something completely different.

You may be asking, “What does this have to do with software, WordPress, eCommerce, or anything else I normally read on Chris' blog?”

Those firefighters were running up a hill, with fire chasing them. And some of them wouldn't drop their heavy equipment. We look at the scene and think, “that's not bright.”

But then we notice the number of us who are using old tools and won't let them go, and we don't talk about it.


In the WordPress world, we've seen the shift from theme frameworks (like the ones from WooThemes, iThemes and StudioPress) to the initial page builders (like Divi) to the more complete page builders (like Beaver Builder and Elementor) to Gutenberg.

Are you building with Gutenberg? Or are you holding on to the old tools for dear life?


It's not just theming, right? I used Gravity Forms for years. Then I started using Ninja Forms. And then I suddenly became a grumpy old man and didn't try anything else. Because I knew my tools. I was comfortable with them. And only in the last year have I started testing all the other ones out there.


I used one CRM for years. Then I decided to look around, and suddenly there were new ones – first Groundhogg, and then FluentCRM. I'm also checking out Bento. Because I don't want to get stuck in my old ways.


I've told you about all the hosting options for WooCommerce. But I know some folks who haven't changed their hosts in more than 5 years – even as the equipment has gotten older and hasn't been replaced by some hosts.

What's the big takeaway here?

Flexible thinking embraces several dynamics at once:

  1. The ability to put our old assumptions aside for a second to re-evaluate things
  2. The ability to try new things (all the way to the end) without judgement
  3. The ability to learn something new and replace an old paradigm

How well are you doing this? I know it takes effort for me. But the first step is always catching when it's happening.

I have to ask myself – do I really have reason to hold this opinion fiercely or am I just anchored?

Once I realize that I may not have the reason, experience, or data to justify a position, then the work starts to start the three step process from above.