Greetings. The newest issue of Scientific American profiles a scientist with a somewhat unique job. Her name is Robin Nagle and she is the "Anthropologist-in-Residence" at the New York City Department of Sanitation. It sure sounds like an interesting assignment for someone trained to study the "origin, behavior, and physical, cultural, and social development of humans." And, as surprising as it might seem, she's not the only anthropologist interested in garbage, because the stuff we throw away says a lot about us, our societies, and what we value.
Her experience might even tell a lot about our companies and organizations, and our ability to innovate and succeed in the future. When asked what surprised her most about analyzing garbage, Nagle replied: "In affluent neighborhoods, I was profoundly impressed with just how much good stuff rich people throw away."
Which got me thinking about all of the "good stuff" we throw away in business. Promising products that we haven't figured out how to capitalize on. Knowledge that we don't have a clear use for right at the moment. Innovations that are just too hard to implement. Brilliant people who don't seem to fit in. Customers who might challenge us a bit too much. Histories that define our compelling reason to be. All sent to the trash heap due to poor timing, lack of vision, a shortage of real curiosity, or not enough commitment to stretch and take a chance.
We win in business and in life when we come to understand the hidden value of all of our good stuff. The kind of stuff that can, when viewed with a fresh eye, challenge us to learn, grow, change, and be better than we are today.