At Google, they have a saying: “Be the river, not the rock.”
It sounds like something Bruce Lee would tell you, just before he’d give you a roundhouse kick to the inner knee. But there’s great wisdom in this saying, which is why we’ve adopted it at Media Shower.
The rock is stationary, unmoving. The river is fluid, dynamic. While the rock is forced to sit in one place, the river finds a way around the rock, whatever it takes. What it’s really about is flow.
Everything in business is in flow. This is why we often refer to money in flow-like terms: “liquidity,” “flooding the market,” “cash flow.” Beyond money, however, everything in your business is in flow: the flow of product to your customers, the flow of development through your pipeline, the flow of information through your organization.
Or is it?
We once had a client who was trying to write the company blog herself. This rarely works, because executives are generally too busy running the business to spend time writing the blog. This client was a busy marketing manager, and every day there was a new priority that outweighed the blog, so she never got anything written.
She brought us in to begin creating blog posts, but wanted to personally edit each post before it went live. She was overloaded with other work, however, so the blog posts began to pile up. When she finally got the first post edited, several weeks later, she found a bug with their blogging platform that she needed her development team to fix. Apparently, getting her development team’s time was like trying to book a lunch appointment with Kim Jong-un, so the blog posts continued to pile up.
Two months later, they abandoned the blog. All the work we had done, to this day, is still unpublished.
You’re in the Flow Right Now
Everything in nature flows: evolution, the seasons, time, our bodies, information. If you’re a musician, you’ll appreciate that music is flow: when you stop the flow, you literally stop the music. Your business needs to have this same sense of healthy flow, an energetic rush of forward movement. You yourself are responsible for conducting that flow in your business.
We instinctively know this is true, because we have a name for people who do not conduct this flow: a “bottleneck.” Literally, the neck of a bottle that restricts the flow of pouring, so the salad dressing doesn’t dump out all over the table.
To be sure, there are times when a restricted flow is necessary, but we want to be on the lookout for places where we are breaking the flow. Here are a few common places we see clients regularly “break the flow.” At Media Shower, we try to identify these up front, in our kickoff call, so we can help our clients develop systems to get the flow moving again.
- Perfectionism. The sense that “everything must be perfect before we can release it.” Quality is our founding value, but perfectionism is often an excuse to never get anything finished (new products, software updates, content, etc.). My temptation to get this blog post perfect is overwhelming, but I’ve given myself an hour to get it finished, because “the perfect is the enemy of the good.”
- Multiple decision makers. Sometimes this is poor internal structure, but it’s often a decision-maker who doesn’t trust his ability to make decisions. Instead, he looks to others within the organization for opinions and feedback — and since everyone has a different opinion, he trudges home sad and confused. Giving a single person responsibility, and holding him accountable, can work wonders for flow.
- Lack of delegation. Perhaps you’ve seen something like this: a Content Manager who is unable to manage the content, because the boss also needs to review each piece of content before it goes live. Delegation is difficult, especially for those of us obsessed with quality! But without delegation, the flow is restricted to the boss’s limited time availability.
- Technical bottlenecks. “I’ll ask my dev team to fix this. It should be completed within a year.” I believe most companies underinvest in IT, because no one wants to pay for plumbing. But seeing information technology as helping conduct the flow of information — and these days, every company is about information — can be helpful for both managers, and the IT team themselves, to prioritize their limited resources.
- Good old procrastination. There are parts of my job that are not much fun; I suspect you can relate. (That’s why we call it “work.”) When those items come up, there is a strong temptation to do the easier work first. Answering email is a favorite procrastination technique, since you still have the illusion that you’re working. The habit to achieve is to tackle the difficult work first, then allow yourself the easier work as a reward.
People don’t mean to be bottlenecks; they’re doing the best they can. There’s always a logical reason for being a “rock,” but there’s usually a better reason for being the “river.” By helping conduct the flow of work through our company — like a faithful, hardworking pump — we not only help our businesses, we also help conduct the flow of life through ourselves.
Are you the bottleneck in your company? Or are you helping your business flow?
Sir John Hargrave is the CEO of Media Shower and author of Mind Hacking, the how-to manual for hacking your head, available in 2016 from Simon & Schuster’s Gallery Books.