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The Official Baldrige Blog

Will You Be the Fire Hose or the Nozzle?

Fireman with fire hose

My sincere wish is that you will be the nozzle. But it sure is tempting to be the fire hose.

Right now you are probably asking, what is Harry talking about? Has he gone off the deep end? Let me explain my concern, starting with the background. I recently read a blog post about the fire hose and the nozzle. The gist of the post was that in live and virtual communication we are too often the hose and too infrequently the nozzle. The "fire hose" person broadcasts everything that is on his or her mind. Like a fire hose, you are gushing everywhere and there is a lot of waste. The nozzle, on the other hand, is directed at exactly the place where water can do the most good. The same can be said for the focused communication of the "nozzle" person. She or he delivers the needed message with clarity and impact.

We are just ten days away from the 27th Annual Quest for Excellence Conference. If you are at the conference, and I hope you will be, I can guarantee two outcomes. You will be energized by the systems of excellence that you hear about. And, you will come away with hundreds of ideas about how to improve your own organization. My question is will you be the fire hose or the nozzle when you return home? Sharing the energy and enthusiasm is great. Proposing hundreds of ideas is not. Take the time to digest and prioritize what improvements, innovations, or changes will have the greatest impact on your organization's performance. Pick some low-hanging fruit, where results will be seen quickly. And then pick one or two bigger opportunities that will take longer, but will have significant potential impact on performance. Share those high priority ideas with the natural enthusiasm you will be bringing back from the conference.

But please don't restrict the fire hose analogy just to the Quest conference. Let me elaborate. I have a yard that takes several hours to mow on a garden tractor. It gives me lots of time to think. And thinking leads to ideas I like to share with my colleagues. I learned to share from the nozzle and not the hose. I realized this need to focus, when my colleagues starting asking me on Monday morning whether I had mowed. If I said yes, they either disappeared or had painful looks (maybe a little exaggeration here). Idea sharing, as with other organizational opportunities, needs prioritization. Too many ideas will be overwhelming and none will receive consideration.

I hope to see you at the Quest conference! And please, leave the fire hose at home, when you return to your workplace!  

About the author

Harry Hertz “The Baldrige Cheermudgeon”

I am Harry Hertz, the Baldrige Cheermudgeon, and Director Emeritus of the Baldrige Program. I joined the Program in 1992 after a decade in management in the analytical chemistry and chemical sciences laboratories at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the home of the Baldrige Program. I started my career at NIST (NBS) as a bench analytical chemist.

My favorite aspects of the Baldrige Program are: (1) the opportunity to interact with leading thinkers from all sectors of the U.S. economy who serve as volunteers in the Baldrige Program, who participate in the Baldrige Executive Fellows Program, and who represent Award applicants at the forefront of the continuous journey to performance excellence, and (2) the intellectual challenge of synthesizing ideas from leading thinkers and from personal research into Insights on the Road to Performance Excellence and other blogs that tackle challenges at the “leading edge of validated leadership and performance practice,” and contribute to the continuous revision of the Baldrige Performance Excellence Framework.

Outside of work I spend my time with family (including three beautiful granddaughters), exercising, baking bread, traveling, educating tomorrow’s leaders, and participating on various boards and board committees.

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