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Rusty Bucket Ideas

It was a sad day, the kind that many of us have experienced. Jake Sinclair had died and his family was cleaning his home and farm before it was to be sold. For the past seven years Jake had lived on the farm alone after his wife’s death. Needless to say, the house was a mess.

Cleaning out the house was a challenge, but the barn was another matter altogether. While the house was a mess, the barn was immaculate. You could see where Jake had his priorities.

The order and structure of the barn made the collection of old buckets a real mystery. The buckets were an assortment of milk buckets, old coffee cans, even lard buckets from times past. They were dented and most were rusty. Why were they there? Surely there must be a reason.

Later, as his relatives went through a box of photographs, the mystery of the buckets was solved. There was a picture of the garden. In the rows you could see the buckets placed near the plants.

Each bucket was an irrigation device. There were small pin holes in the buckets that allowed water to seep down to the roots of the plants. The local climate was one of frequent afternoon thunderstorms. This type of rain wasn’t really that useful for the garden because the thunderstorm was quickly followed by heat that dried out the soil. But the buckets filled up with rain water and then allowed the water to release slowly.

The buckets even added nutrients. Plants that required more iron were nourished by the water coming from the rusty buckets. While the buckets didn’t look very good, they were critical to the growth of the garden.

The ideas we develop in our discussions might be like these old buckets. They may not look like much at first. Some people might see them as junk to be discarded. It might be hard to imagine their usefulness. But if you keep exploring them, you might find they actually have a nourishing effect. They might stimulate the growth of your thinking through slow and steady development.

New ideas like the buckets may be ragged at first. But new ideas don’t have to be perfect, they just need to be the starting point for longer-term development. Keep in mind that some ideas that appear ready for the discard pile might actually hold the key to some really useful insights.

One challenge that many discussion groups face is rejecting unusual ideas that are brought forward. It’s easy to think why something won’t work and discard it. It’s much more difficult to challenge the group to think about how an unusual idea might actually work—just like a rusty bucket. Many promising yet unpolished ideas are set aside by perfectionists. Perhaps one of the most useful phrases in working with collaborative groups is: “Let’s try it out and see what happens. We can always make adjustments.” Discussion groups benefit from developing a practice of looking out for those rusty bucket ideas. They may seem like junk at first, but end up being quite useful. How can we help groups develop the habit of welcoming rusty bucket ideas?

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“Humanity has advanced, when it has advanced, not because it has been sober, responsible, and cautious, but because it has been playful, rebellious, and immature.” – Tom Robbins (Novelist)

This post is part of our “Think About” education series. These posts are based on composites of real-world experiences, with some details changed for the sake of anonymity. New posts appear on Wednesdays.