• Johannes Mutzke

Where’s your trash pile?


In a recent study featured by Harvard Business Review, a manager was cited who routinely asked his employees the above question in their performance evaluation. Those who had trash heaps of “good efforts gone awry” were rewarded and encouraged to continue to have courage to forge ahead. Those who didn’t (aka “small trash piles”) were admonished to aim higher, push harder and take more initiative and risk.

What’s the rationale behind such a “reckless” question? Isn’t it better to “manage by objective” and handout trophies for spectacular performance?

Let’s cut to the chase…if you want to raise a workforce that’s safe, slow, incremental and perfectionist – YES; if you want a learning and innovative organization that takes risk…and yes, sometimes fails spectacularly…BUT reaches far beyond the current paradigm – NO.

Why? Just think of the chef’s kitchen – vegetable peelings, pots, pans, dishes…or the artist’s studio with pictures, sketches, drawings, crumpled papers…

An old German saying captures it well: “wherever you cut wood, you’ll find sawdust.” In other words “trash” (aka failure) will happen whenever serious work is being done. It means new things are being tested, risk is being taken, learning is happening.

Here’s the bottom line – there’s no great performance and no breakthrough unless there’s trial & error, risk & failure (if so, it’s being hidden). Every failure is a step closer to success. If you don’t have a good-sized trash heap you’re not stretching far enough.

So, have courage to ask yourself

the “trash pile question.” Ask yourself…your spouse…your children… your subordinates. Help them recover from the shock of the question by breaking through the existing “performance paradigm paralysis” and framing the “trash heap” positively.

What‘s being learned? What should we try next? How could it lead to the next iteration of progress?…what if it ends up in the trash heap again?…some of it will – guaranteed!…but, so what! – we’ll try hard, learn, keep moving, one failure closer to success – GO for it!

Image Credit: maxpixel.freegreatpicture.com


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