The first time I ever saw high-speed tandem snow plowing was 35 years ago during my first full winter in Vermont. The morning after a major snowstorm, I pulled onto the interstate right behind three state plow trucks traveling at 40-plus miles per hour in tight formation. The lead truck was in the passing lane with its huge plow blade angled toward the median. Close behind was a second truck, straddling both lanes and overlapping the path of the lead truck, it's blade angled toward the shoulder. A third truck in the right-hand lane completed the “flying wedge.” Happy to be traveling behind this trio, I marveled as the accumulated snow on the highway seemed simply to disappear. It rifled out of the huge concave plow blade of the lead truck, and sprayed in a high graceful stream into the median. It spiraled from the path of the middle truck into the right-hand lane, where the blade of the final truck scooped it up and shot it over the guardrail.
What's this got to do with remodeling? It starts with the major snowstorm that hit the East Coast this weekend, dumping 8 inches on downtown Washington, D.C., where I now live. Shoveling snow may seem like a mindless chore, but like everything else, it is a problem to be solved. During the hour or so I spent clearing snow from the driveway and sidewalk, I found myself thinking about the parallels between strategies for solving snow problems and business problems.
I moved to Washington from Vermont, where snow removal is big business, and not just for ski areas and road commissioners. Every household has a budget for snow removal, and the method of choice is plowing. Plowing works well early in the season, but by mid-winter, the accumulating banks of snow make it increasingly difficult to push newly fallen snow completely out of the way. Even high-speed plowing on the interstate works only for so long. Several times each season the state plowing crews employ a hinged “wing” blade mounted to the side of the trucks to knock down the tops of the embankments to make room for snow from the next storm.
My Vermont driveway was 400 feet long, and the first few winters I paid to have it plowed. But snow piles up pretty fast in Vermont. Along with major storm accumulation — two years ago in April, three separate storms dumped 4 feet of snow in 21 days —light daily flurries can add a half-inch per day, so that by early March some years, there is literally no room to turn around. If a major storm was predicted, the plowing service, which also happened to be an excavating company, would come in with a bucket loader to scoop out more space.
Besides being expensive, however, the plowing-plus-occasional-bucket-loader solution was inelegant. If snow is a “problem,” plowing is a temporary solution. Pushing the snow aside works only so long. Inevitably, the “problems” pile up, literally, and the traveled lane becomes narrower, leaving less and less room to maneuver.
My ultimate solution was to invest in a snow thrower. Not only was it more economical, it completely removed the “problem.” I had the same amount of maneuvering room after the last storm of the winter as I did after the first.
To extend the metaphor to its limit (and perhaps beyond), whether your business problems come in a steady flurry or in a driving blizzard, your strategies need to provide solutions that give you the most room to maneuver. High-speed tandem snow plowing works for Vermont, but here in D.C., the public works department relies on the fact that temperatures will generally warm rapidly after a storm. There is no effort to permanently remove snow — it will melt soon enough. Occasionally, after large snowfalls, this approach backfires and whole sections of the city are immobilized for days, even weeks. Still, waiting for the sun to come out is cheaper and more efficient than buying snow removal equipment that won't get used much.
The forecast says sunny and 40 degrees this afternoon.
Oh, well. It was fun while it lasted.