Disruptive Thinking


For the last twenty years I’ve been dreading my 2-3 weeks at the family cottage. The 1st time I went there, just after my wife and I got married, I was impressed with the rustic charm of the 30’s era cottage and the setting; a beautiful peninsula in the Lake of The Woods region with classic Canadian Shield topography. What drove me crazy were all the piles of garbage and wood hidden in the bush, and in storage sheds, representing over 50 years of procrastination and “out of sight, out of mind” thinking. 

Every year I’d chip away at these piles taking toxic liquids and useless metal items to the municipal dump, and burning some of the wet, rotten wood that’s so inviting to termites + carpenter ants.

In no time my 2-3 weeks at the cottage were over and we’d pack it in for another season. Year after year I'd leave frustrated by how little I got done; sewing the seeds of frustration for the next year where I’d once again make almost no progress.

Enter the burn barrel – my low-tech miracle.

Two years ago my son brought in a burn barrel like this.

Coupled with four rainy days + nights (which make outdoor fires much safer) this burn barrel enabled me to eliminate years of procrastination. And it changed how I look at my next cottage holiday.

  • I'm getting a second burn barrel.
  • I'm going to hire a few local summer students (with a truck) to clear + remove brush.

There are some classic business lessons here:

  • unconventional thinking is often required to sort out old issues (that others ignore or see as part of the business terrain),
  • not knowing what I didn’t know led to failure + frustration,
  • sharing my frustration, with my Son, led me to define the "problem" and what a "good outcome" would look like,
  • sharing got others, in this case my Son, thinking and problem solving on their own,
  • my Son's solution didn’t look like mine because he has a different background and a different problem solving process,
  • his solution (the burn barrel + student labour) is far better than mine, is on strategy, on time + on budget, and . . . 
  • it’s a great example of why I prefer to work with people who are not at all like me: age, gender, ethnicity, religion, blah, blah, blah because two or more heads really are better than one. Especially if they’re all different and just a wee bit schizophrenic.