Keep The Barges Coming; On Consistent Action

Back in the good old days of the industrial revolution in England something extraordinary was happening with the canal system. It led to a philosophy of consistent steps, of drip feeding, leading to sustainable growth. And it has become a philosophy for me and also my team. In fact, I adopted it in my last three businesses. ‘Keep the Barges Coming’.

Let me set the scene. In England (as in many parts of Europe) since medieval times there has been a network of water canals, much like a road network. This allowed farmers, manufacturers and businesses to move goods from the coast to their villages and workshops, then back again.

The Problem (Gap)

Imagine if you were in charge of one of these facilities during the good times of the 1800’s. The problem you faced was how to get a consistent supply of raw materials to keep you and your workers productive. Although the canal system had been around for hundreds of years it was far from perfect. Especially when the industrial revolution kicked in.

It was slow because the small boats were pulled through the water by horses which walked along the land on either side of the canal. Adding to this the boats were rather small and limited in their capacity. But during the industrial revolution the Brits (being infrastructure geniuses) set about building larger canals, more of them and bigger self-driven boats called Barges. And this is where this starts to get interesting because it created another set of problems.

When a shipload of materials arrived on the coast the temptation was to send all of it at once up the canal to your factory. You were then inundated with supplies and your workers were inundated with pressure to process it all.  Result being ‘everything at once overwhelm’. But then another major issue reared its head. Once all the supplies had been used there was nothing until the next shipment. Which could be months away. Massive downtime.

The Solution – consistent action

The solution was staggering the supply of materials over a period of time.  Warehouses started popping up at the docks. With a bit of planning it then became a matter of keeping a consistent flow of barges. Small consistent shipments. Meaning when they arrive they were more easily handled on site by workers and as current supplies started to dwindle the next barge would arrive. Reduced downtime, reduced stress, better productivity and because of all that, arguably better quality. These consistent steps meant sustainable growth

It was a much better decision to keep drip feeding and keep the barges coming. The change is a constant and it’s the small things and consistent actions that make the big differences.

What this means to your business

For us it is a metaphor for nurturing clients. Rather than overwhelm them from the first call, let’s just give them what they need now and then something else later. It’s a about drip feeding your clients with an email newsletter every so often, or a blog post, or sending an information pack or thank you gift, rather than bombarding them with everything at once. For us ‘Keep the barges coming’ is a reminder to keep in touch, bit by bit, inch by inch. It supports the ‘Game of Inches’ process.

I first learned of this years back when reading about advertising giant Saatchi and Saatchi who a slightly different slant because they view the barge as being the customer themselves and you need to keep the barge moving up the canal. They are attributed to inventing the modern sales and marketing funnel based on just this. In their book ‘Chutzpah & Chutzpah’ by Simon Goode, Richard Myers and Nick Darke, they note that Saatchi & Saatchi referred to it as ‘The Canal System…once a client (or barge) with money (coal) is put into the system (the canal) at one end, sooner of later they have to arrive at the port (Saatchi & Saatchi)’.  The premise being that you need to nurture and prod and help them move along the sales and marketing funnel, bit by bit. Not just give them one massive shove at the start and hope all ends well.

Consistent Steps Leads To Sustainable Growth

Here’s the thing. ‘Keep the barges coming’ means you don’t have to spend zillions on marketing or create the next super bowl ad or immerse your industry on a one-off mega campaign. You just need to take small consistent steps. And as a side benefit, it takes the pressure off your people, your finances your time and ultimately leads to stronger relationships.

It’s one of the main message clients want me to speak about and conduct workshops on when helping their teams consistently improve,

Talk soon.


Other articles on innovation include ‘How do I foster an innovation culture in my team?’ or ‘What if disruption is holding you back?’ and ‘3 Big innovation barriers’

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