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Grab the mop – learning through action

I was leaving the office last Tuesday after working on a new marketing campaign and walked down the hall to shut the lights off. I had plans to meet a channel partner with our CEO for dinner and didn’t leave much time buffer. On my way over to the light switch I noticed a glimmering shine on the floor. Water. Insert a choice four letter word of surprise. Why is there water across the hallway? And why is it moving? It had been raining all day, was it coming from outside?

When you’re standing in a flat place and water is moving towards you, you have three choices: move away, stand still, or move towards. Onward I went. What started as a crawl of water spreading across the floor turned into an inch of standing water in the corner. That’s strange, why does it sound like the toilet is running? Splash around the corner to look into the bathroom: the toilet is indeed running,  water is backing up out of the bowl, filling the bathroom, the adjacent conference room, the hallway, and starting to run into nearby offices. Insert a few more choice words of surprise. First thought – need to get this stopped. Second thought – are there any “floaties” in the water? I’ve been the only person in the office for a while, and hadn’t used this bathroom. Good news – no “floaties”. Close the flapper and stop the flow.

Situation report – how bad is this really and what is needed to fix it? A good volume of standing, fairly clean water in four rooms on a concrete floor (thankfully no carpet), some had gone into one office that was locked. I didn’t have the key. Call backup – it was my mom’s office and she likes her stuff in order, so she was on the way pronto. Back to choices – standing in a hallway looking at a flooded office you again have three choices: leave and hope for the best, call a cleanup crew, or grab the mop. Supply closet for $1,000 Alex. First, call my dinner meeting, “Hey guys, get comfortable and enjoy a beverage. Going to be a bit late.” Next, get to swabbing.

Thanks to help from my mom (in addition to being awesome at HR she’s a master deck hand), everything was cleaned up and under control in an hour. Not too bad.

With a week to reflect and let my shoes dry out, a few things I re-learned:

  • An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Invest in preventative maintenance and analysis, especially of “invisible” systems.

Turns out that at some point paper towel made its way into the pipes. That created a flow restriction which prevented the bowl from draining when the toilet ran. No way to diagnose it other than find out the hard way or have regular system maintenance. Choose maintenance. Now you know why every bathroom in the world tells you what not to flush down the toilet. With all those signs,  people still do.

  • Action solves problems. The hard choice is usually the right one.

We’re all standing in a flooded hallway. You are right now. There’s something going on in your work life, your business, that is causing a chain reaction of problems. Follow it back to the source and act quickly. From there you can be proactive with prevention but the first action is to stop new error creation.

  • Know who you can call for help. Build and use your network.

Not everybody is fortunate enough to work with family and dedicated people who you know you can lean on for help, but you do know who you can call in a pinch. You need that support network in lots of situations. Don’t over use your resources, build them so you can ask for help when needed.

  • Owning a business is a different challenge every day. Like it or leave it.

Add mopping floors in an emergency to the list nobody tells you about doing when you start a business. There’s a new challenge every day, some will be fun (how can we satisfy this new request?), some will be hard (how do I tell this customer we screwed up?), and some will suck (surprise mopping a floor). It’s all part of the deal, good and bad, and you can choose to handle it with action and humor instead of resignation and anger.