The Peshtigo Principle

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Quick, what was the most devastating fire in American history?

If you answered the Great Chicago Fire that started on August 8, 1871, you’re wrong. While that fire was burning, an even more awful fire was raging 250 miles to the north, around Peshtigo, Wisconsin.

I say “around” Peshtigo, because that fire destroyed several towns in an area of 2400 square miles. The Peshtigo fire was still burning four days after the Chicago fire was put out. It killed more than 1500 people.

If you went to elementary school in Wisconsin where students study state history in the fourth grade, you may know about the Peshtigo Fire. Otherwise, the odds are good that you never heard of it until this moment. Most Americans haven’t.

Part of the reason is that the Chicago fire destroyed a large chunk of one of America’s largest cities. There were lots of reporters there to write about the fire. Then, there was that charming story about the cow kicking over the lantern.

Even if someone in, say, New York, heard about the Peshtigo fire, it might not have seemed important. “Peshtigo? Never heard of it.” But the Peshtigo fire destroyed the telegraph lines that would have carried news of the conflagration to the rest of the world quickly.

There’s a lesson here. No matter how big, important, or amazing, some facts and incidents are, you won’t know about them. That leads us to the Peshtigo Principle.

When you think you’ve got all the facts, look a little more.

When you think you’ve got a good solution to a problem, push on to see if there’s a better one.

When you think you’ve done your due diligence, take a deep breath and make one more call.

The important fact you need could be out there, just out of sight.

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