Garbage Patch as Lesson Learned

Posted on June 26, 2010


With the Gulf’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster in the news, other environmental ugliness has taken a back seat. A month or so before the spill occurred, I learned of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch for the first time. I am not sure how something supposedly twice the size of Texas floating in the Pacific Ocean did not hit my dashboard sooner, but the phenomenon is sickening and unbelievable. The Garbage Patch is a collection of floating trash about 600 miles west off the California coast; it is a conglomeration of waste from who-knows-where that has gathered due to prevailing currents in the oceans.

Needless to say, until it is eliminated it remains a lingering reminder of humanity’s selfishness toward our own ecosystem and a reminder of our famously disposable society—except our disposables do not mysteriously vanish. In fact, it is very similar to the detritus from decades of space missions supposedly orbiting the earth in suspended animation.

To me the Garbage Patch is a metaphor for the broken processes and ‘not my problems’ in our projects and organizations. Our messiness and short-sighted actions must be confronted and plans better executed. They are problems we can fix, and an opportunities to improve.

Think about a current or past project where decisions were made to selectively ignore some issue in the hope it would ‘solve itself’ and go away. These are the garbage patches in our jobs and in our lives. Let us use the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, this unfortunate and embarrassing global black eye, as a reminder of how we can take responsibility and fix what we can control, and make sure whatever we touch has a resolution with our coworkers, clients and families we can proudly sign our names to, and own.

Posted in: Design Zeitgeist