Turn Your Garbage Into Gold

We all have garbage. Some of it we can see. Most of it is we can’t. Customer complaints are as much garbage as a discarded Starbucks cup. 

The way we deal with our garbage reveals how we view ourselves, our customers, our culture, and our purpose.

Each year, for example, Walt Disney World averages 52 million visitors. Disneyland sees another 18 million. (That’s more than the combined populations of California and Texas.) Yet, not only will we never see any of their thousands of garbage cans overflowing, we’ll never see a dirty garbage can. Disneyland owns their garbage. 

Garbage, by definition, is a byproduct of our life and work. So long as it’s still around, it only serves to get in our way.

Disney doesn’t enjoy garbage any more than the rest of us. They just view it in a different light.

Turn Garbage into Gold

Zappos disrupted retail when they offered free shipping both ways and free returns. Shipping and returns are pure garbage for retail. Returned items not only cost the company in shipping, but also the item often can’t be resold by the retailer due to wear and damage. By offering both for free, Zappos turned garbage into gold.

We can all turn garbage into gold, but only if we have eyes to see the riches in the rubble.  

Owning Our Garbage

Zappos and Disney own their garbage. It’s deeply integrated into their business model and practices. You and I can adopt the same perspective when we integrate garbage into our lives. Rather than resist and resent its presence, we own it. We’ll even clean our garbage cans.

But before we do that, we need to differentiate what garbage should stay and what must go. 

Necessary and Unnecessary Garbage

We all have two kinds of garbage: the garbage that must stay and the garbage that must go. We’re on boards for seven different organizations that consume hours of time each month. Ninety-eight percent of our Twitter and Instagram feed. That’s garbage that must go. To pull from my previous definition of garbage, it only serves to get in the way. It’s self-imposed and, therefore, unnecessary. What’s left when we clear out all of the unnecessary garbage is the garbage that must stay. Customer emails, returns, business development, hiring and firing—these we can’t avoid. They’re necessary garbage. The question is whether or not we own and integrate them, or whether we resist them. 

Garbage is unlikeable, but we can grow to like the way we deal with it. I suspect Disney and Zappos derive a sense of pride from how they deal with their garbage.  

We’ll never like our garbage, but we can take pride in the way we deal with it, especially if we turn it into gold.

Andrew Robinson