The common household plunger is a basic, yet indispensable tool in every household and business—at least in those with running water. Invented in 1874 by New York confectioner John S. Hawley, the plunger was patented as a “vent-clearer.”

While plungers can be our best friend when we need one, many people go to great lengths to hide them so they’re out of sight when guests are visiting. Some hide them in closets and under cabinets. Others have cute little “garages” for them right in their bathrooms. Apparently, there’s nothing tackier than exposing a naked plunger!

Plungers are known by many names, among them are force cup, plumber’s friend, and plumber’s helper. But the name I like most is award. Let me explain.

Early in my consulting career, I felt that many of the problems my clients were experiencing with their businesses could actually be solved by the owners themselves. Frequently, the only problem was a lack of confidence that their remedy was the right one. Other times they just needed a little assist from me on their strategy. In other words, the problem was a lot like a clogged drain that just needed a little encouragement to free itself up. I realized that my counsel to them was little more than applying a plunger to a clogged drain—I was simply freeing up what was already in their head.

Fortunately for me, my clients didn’t discontinue my services to run out and buy a plunger instead. This gave me the gumption to design and confer upon worthy recipients my plunger award. I called it the “Royal Order of the Golden Plunger” award. It was an inexpensive, two-dollar plunger that I painted gold and mounted on a very expensive plaque that was engraved with the company’s name, year, and the reason for the award.

As my clients’ companies grew in size, the challenges they faced became more complex and sophisticated. As a result, my plunger award fell out of service, but the concept remained, just with more-sophisticated tools and strategies.

Any plumber can tell you that a plunger will not solve all the plumbing problems in a customer’s home or business. Sometimes problems are more complex than a mere clogged drain. Plus, the more sources and uses of water in a building, the greater the chances of experiencing a water problem. Likely, more-sophisticated tools are needed to diagnose where the problem is and sometimes heavier or more-sophisticated equipment to correct the problem. It’s the same with a business.

The more sources and uses of cash that a company has, the greater the risk of developing a clog. Or worse yet, a leak! Add in the additional complexities that come with having more people, more-intricate processes, or multiple locations, and it becomes clear that the solution needed is more than a plunger. Help may come by asking the right questions or employing analysis tools to identify the location of the blockage.

While on the surface many careers may appear to be more glamorous than that of a plumber, there are remarkable similarities between all jobs. They all involve solving problems for customers, just like a plunger does with a clogged drain.

What we’re really doing is helping things flow more freely for people in need and reinforcing the notion that we can all use a reliable plunger from time to time.

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