Finding Wisdom In Unexpected Places

By Robyn Bage

leadershipI find lessons on management in the most interesting places. I’ve learned from sidewalk cafes and from television shows. My most recent education came from my recycle bin.

For the past several years, in the early morning hours of trash pick-up day, my partner and I have heard rumblings. At first, we surmised it was an animal rummaging through our trash, but we realized the rumblings were too methodical for them to be the work of a fox or raccoon in search of treats.

We woke up early one morning to see for ourselves what could be disturbing our otherwise innocuous trash. There he was, an older gentleman under cover of night, systematically retrieving returnable bottles or cans from our recycle bin! We watched as he gathered his bounty and loaded it into a plastic bag, and walked wearily down to the next house.

Good for him, we whispered to each other. We hoped that our neighbors would continue to let him hunt in their recycle bins, too. If he had the time and initiative to gather and return items not easily exchanged for cash, who were we to stand in his way? We barely had enough energy to bring our diet soda cans to the grocery store—and we shop there each week!  Over time it became a comfort of sorts, listening to him meticulously search the recycle bin before every Sunday pick-up.

A few weeks ago we realized we were no longer awakened by the squeaks and groans of the recycle bin moving due to our hunter/gatherer’s exploration. It felt like a loss to us and our community. But life goes on, and so does trash collection. We didn’t give it much thought after that.

Until last weekend. He returned!

Instead of hearing noises before daybreak Sunday, I saw him outside while I cleaned out my car that sunny Saturday afternoon. No longer on foot, our hunter/gatherer arrived driving his brand new, candy apple red moped. Instead of just a plastic bag, he had wire baskets and tote bags. He smiled at me, and nodded hello. I was so excited for him I ran into the house to get the bag of cans and bottles I’d been planning to redeem myself and gave it to him.

So what is the business management lesson?

  • You can build a successful enterprise filling a niche that no one thinks to (or wants to) fill.
  • Finding a supportive community can help you to be successful.
  • Technology can make labor intensive work more manageable.
  • Building a business is hard work.
  • Hard work pays off.

2 thoughts on “Finding Wisdom In Unexpected Places

  1. Robyn Bage’s storyline is so educative and fascinating that I had to scroll down twice in anxiety that it would soon end! A good lesson indeed for business management. The gentleman not only creatively identified a innovative going concern he added punctuality as the soul of the business. We also learned that even after making enough earnings and improved life conditions, business must go on as usual.


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