Pushing a Wet Rope

If you know me very well, you know that I have a lot of one-liner sayings. I use the silly phrases to help me drive a point home. Here are a few of my favorites that I use regularly:

  • "Pressure drives progress."
  • "Buy you books, send you to school…"
  • "Pot calling the kettle black" — or as my youngest son says, "popcorn kettle on the pirates back." Personally, I like his version better.
  • "Hard work and clean livin’."
  • "Livin’ the dream!"
  • "Don’t know if I’m comin’ or goin’."

For this article, however, we will focus on, "pushing a wet rope." I use that when I see someone doing something that is extremely contrary to what he or she should be doing. Basically, it means that you’re working against yourself.


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Recently, I met the owner of a smaller shop that was in the odd phase of growing where it is starting to get bigger than just the owner. This is a tough threshold to cross for many reasons. During our brief meeting, we walked through the shop where he was constantly getting interrupted. He even stopped to help assemble a cabinet as we talked.

While there is nothing wrong with this per se, it does go against the grain of trying to grow his business.  

I asked him the question, “Where is your company going right now?” After a long fragmented answer, I told him that he was pushing a wet rope. Although they were growing, they were also lost in a sea of activities just to get thru the day. Anybody that has been in this phase knows exactly what I am talking about.  

Sometimes as owners we get so focused on growth that we do not take the time to figure out how to grow, and more importantly where to put our focus. If your focus is spread amongst 20 different activities, then your business will reflect that focus. Hence, "pushing a wet rope."

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However, if you have a laser focus on the one thing that can make the biggest change in your shop, then your business will reflect that. Your business will almost take on a new life and attitude because you as the owner have the focus and discipline to target business growth and improvement.  

Here are a few things that owners could do to quit pushing the wet rope:

  • Start delegating shop floor tasks 
  • Create simple SOP’s
  • Outsource bottlenecks in your process to fix costs and improve flow
  • Hire a key employee to start taking some of the daily tasks off of your plate
  • You’re the owner, so don’t get caught in the daily minutiae of the company. Strive to work ON the business, not just IN it.

Are you guilty of "pushing the wet rope?" I know that I am from time to time, but it’s an easy problem to fix. Find the one thing that is holding you back the most right now and focus on it until it is fixed.  

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If you enjoyed this article, please comment below about how you’re guilty of pushing the wet rope, and what you’re going to do about it.