I know this isn’t the sort of business advice you are probably accustomed to, but it works!  However, before you rush out and set your septic tank on fire, telling everybody that David told you to do it, please read the full article first. I do NOT recommend actually burning your septic tank…especially if you live in the city.

This post is an allegory with an important business lesson that a lot of entrepreneurs are forgetting these days. But before we get to the lesson, you’ll need to hear the story.

This story starts with a lot of gurgles, a few splashes and general panic around the Leonhardt household. It sure seemed like the septic tank was about to backwash into the house.

No problem, I thought. I can see the patch of grass over the tank where the heat below keeps the ground thawed and the snow melted in the middle of the tank.

Then came the reality check. That was not the middle of the tank; it was just the far corner. Only after an hour of digging, and one section of the metal cover stubbornly refusing to be cleared, that it struck me – there are actually two chambers with two covers. The second chamber, though smaller, is the more important one, where the guck from the house empties into the tank.

That’s where the guck gets stuck.

And none of the packed, frozen earth was coming off of the 200-pound concrete slab that served as a lid for the smaller chamber. Miraculously, after half an hour of digging, chopping and chiseling – yes, down on my knees! – I was able to remove half of the earth in one fell swoop with a crowbar.

But I eventually hit a wall. I thought, “What the world needs more of is blowtorches.” But I didn’t have a blowtorch. As I stood there in the cold, four hours of digging behind me and a month of digging ahead of me, it occurred that this was how pioneers spent their winters – outside working , just as they did in the summer.

And that’s when I got my “Aha!” moment.

Set fire to your septic tank

I gathered wood and paper and a lighter and created a campfire on top of the lid. It took three separate campfires to cover the three sections that were covered in frozen soil, but it worked! Yes, it actually worked. I stopped breaking my back digging, and instead warmed up (thawed out) to a campfire, then easily removed the earth beneath.

What does any of this have to do with business? When I came into my home office after the sun went down and the fire went out, I saw a Skype message from Brian Hughes, a marketing colleague of mine. I told him I had a great blog post title in mind: “Set fire to your septic tank.”

I explained the lesson this experience had given me: “Sometimes you have to go back to the way the pioneers did things. Let’s go to voice.” He agreed, commenting that “We shouldn’t communicate only by hashtags.”

You would think this is obvious, but the very next day, in another Skype conversation, writing coach Carol Tice was reminding some folks why it is “important to talk to live humans so you can get your own breaking news, instead of just circulating around the web all the time, like 99% of people do.”

I responded that ” I like getting original quotes from folks sometimes, just so that it doesn’t all get inbred.” Which is what you might notice I am doing in this blog post.

Are you so caught up in automation and instant messaging and texting and email that you forget to actually speak voice-to-voice or face-to-face with people (you know, like customers)? Ithappens all the time.  And that’s where the guck gets stuck.

Technology is amazing. Automation is handy. But that does not mean we should forget or dismiss the old ways of doing things. Sometimes it is better to communicate voice-to-voice.

And it is not just about communication. Sometimes it is better to walk than to drive. Sometimes it is better to write than to type. Sometimes it is better to make your own sandwich than to buy it from the shop down the road.

It’s OK to do things the way the pioneers did things – or even the cavemen! – and you should always have that option in your arsenal. Because you never know when you’ll be standing on a septic tank with no other option than to light a fire.

And now, to answer the burning question that has had you rooted to your seat all along. Yes, I did come out stinking at the end of the day – but from campfire smoke, not from sewage.

EPILOGUE:  The fire did work, and I was able to clear around and even a bit under the three-inch thick lid.  But the lid was still stuck from below.  So as soon as I submit this article, I’m heading into the snow with…

A blowtorch!