One of my more enthusiastic colleagues came up with “We need to fight fire with fire” in a presentation this week. My first thought was song lyrics, but he wasn’t singing.

The phrase means to use the same tactics to defeat your attacker (or in this case competitor) as they used on you. But where did it come from?

It turns out to be very literal. Settlers to the US would burn controlled fires to deprive any forest fires of fuel to prevent their spread. A modified method is still used in forest management today with firebreaks forming ribbons of grass through forested hills in North America, Australia and New Zealand.

It’s not a term I often hear used in a work context, it seems a little childish or petulant somehow, but in its original context it makes perfect sense.

Image FHR_Fire(164) /Alex Miroshnichenko/ CC BY 2.0

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