I have been using a version of the phrase “turning off the water instead of mopping it up” more often than usual recently. Not because of any new inefficiencies going on, moreso just because it’s been on my mind more lately as a great way to help someone get a picture of where we should be focusing or as a way to attack a problem.
In case you’re not familiar, here’s an outline: when you walk into a room where the water’s flooding all over the floor, do you take the time to start mopping it up, or do you first go and turn off the water.
Seems obvious, but now apply it to the other aspects of your life. Whether it’s health, family or that annoying email you have to send every Thursday by 3pm to your boss, many times we get so caught up in mopping up the water that we don’t take the time to figure out how or where to turn off the faucet.
Well, like I said, I do love this phrase but after randomly running across the story (on the great Money is Not Important blog) and learning more about it’s (supposed) origin I’m even more hooked. It turns out that that metaphor comes from a test they used to administer in certain mental hospitals to see if a patient was ready to go back out into the “regular” world. The staff would deliberately clog a sink, let the water overflow in a room, then give a mop to the patient and have him/her enter the room. If the first thing the patient did was turn off the water, s/he was free to go. If s/he started mopping up – it was an indication they needed more help. (let’s keep our thoughts about the fact that mental health can be a truly real and debilitating disease and just use it as intended to be a story from the way certain diseases were treated in the past)
Whether or not that’s the true origin, I really think it adds another dimension to using it as an example.
So what’s the faucet you need to turn off?