Every day I go for a walk and pick up trash.
Although there a lot of reasons for it, the two main ones are:
- It needs to be done — (a matter of faith / belief)
- There is information coded into the experience that I can’t otherwise get to
That first reason is quite simple to break down: I don’t believe that there should be trash on the streets.
The second is a bit more complicated, and reaches into a bunch of things— like human centered design / experience design, empathy, entrepreneurship, and how we build ecosystems from an individual up to global level.
There is an important relationship between the two, and it’s a relationship that’s largely about action, about testing what we believe and what we are most suited to work on in the world.
In the startup ecosystem this is expressed via investors saying things like “we want founders who are obsessed with solving problems” or founders saying “I won’t rest until I’ve understood and solved this problem for my target customer / market.”
And that’s where faith and belief comes in, if we truly see a problem that people have we become compelled to work on it. That understanding and faith is also one of the most admirable parts of the entrepreneur’s journey, it’s an honest and deep intention of the vast majority of people I have encountered who build something from scratch.
But belief is not enough. Action is also required, and that’s where it gets difficult for most people.
What information is coded into experience?
In the case of picking up trash, there are hundreds of variables and micro-interactions involved. Here are a few of them…
- Geographic location and/or placement of trash and recycling containers
- Traffic and pedestrian patterns — friendly, unfriendly, neutral
- Social codes e.g. will people walking or driving by think I am crazy, be supportive, if there is more or less trash will other people be likely to do anything about it, etc.
- Overall understanding of the problem and how individual actions contribute to change
- Prioritization of time & effort, is this something that requires a team? What resources would need to be allocated to solve this problem?
Now, for me this information is being used at a basic human level. I don’t run a waste management company, and I pick up trash to understand what it means when there is trash everywhere, not to solve the problem at a larger level.
But if you run a waste management company this is the kind of information that is absolutely critical, and that you can’t get by sitting in an office talking to other people who also work in the industry. This is why the most important part of any company is usually contained in whichever person or team is responsible for customer service, because that’s where things get directed when there is an issue.
It’s also why doing good, giving back, etc. are not secondary missions for a human or a company. If you want to build a life or company that is meaningful and successful, feeling good is nice….but getting information about how and why something works is infinitely more important.