Why You Need to Drop Your Tools

HomeMental Models

The problem you were solving in the mid-2000s differs from the problem you are solving in the COVID-19 age of 2020. Why would you use the same tools to fight them?

These next few sentences could change the way you’re living your life right now. I stumbled upon these thoughts while reading Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World. The author was unpacking books by organizational behavior expert, Karl Weick.

In 1949, Montana experienced one of the most tragic events the state has faced. Norman Maclean made it famous in his book Young Men and Fire, a novel that recounts the terrible tragedy of this 5,000-acre fire.

A lightning strike in the middle of the forest on a 97-degree day started the fire.

The U.S. Forest Service agency deployed 15 smokejumpers onto the scene. It was a new practice, but one that would help firefighters get a good head start on fires that were deep into the forest. Smokers would jump out of planes and land in a nearby safe zone with gear; ready to do what they could to decrease the size of the fire.

This fire was small when smokers first landed. They rereferred to it as a “ten o’clock fire”, meaning the crew was planning to have it out by 10 A.M. the next morning.

That might have happened if the fire didn’t jump from one thick slope of trees to another. The fire was now racing uphill at eleven feet per second towards the crew of smokejumpers.

“Drop your tools! Run!”, the crew foreman Wagner Dodge remembers yelling.

Two men, Walter B. Rumsey and Robert W. Sallee did just that. They dropped their tools and ran. Those two were the only survivors. The 13 other members who didn’t make it, refused to drop their tools. They couldn’t run fast enough and the fire caught up to them.

In a similar firefighting situation in 1994, another fire had the same result. Crews were fighting a fire that jumped a ridge and started right towards the crew. The reports from the body recovery scene show men with their backpacks on and chainsaws in their hands.


Imagine the fire as the problem your business or church is trying to solve. If that fire changes paths, it changes the problem, which in the result should change the solution. It oftentimes doesn’t.

Epstein's conclusion in this chapter of his book is that too often, we don’t put down the tools we are most familiar with. “When a firefighter is told to drop his firefighting tools, he is told to forget he is a firefighter”, the survivor from the 1990 fire recalls. Are you trying to solve the problem with the tools you used when it first started? Odds are you are about to be engulfed.

The way you do business and the business itself are two different things. The tools you have been using to run your business are replaceable without damaging the actual business.

Trying to do business with the same tools you were using four years ago will lead you to get burned and ruined. Dropping all your tools will let the fire burn and you will never solve your problem. Asses the problem, pick up new tools and continue solving the problem.

Drop your tools. Pick up new ones. Or become engulfed by the fire we’re all fighting.

Written by
Dalton Mabery