The Bucket Theory of Work: Part I

Everybody was meant to do something. Everybody is good at something. Whether the thing(s) you were meant to do and are good at are career-worthy is another question entirely. A lot depends on when you’re born, as shown in the following table:

Time period Most valuable skill Least valuable skill
2 million – 5000 BC Hunting Interior design
5000 BC – 1870 AD Farming Movie star
1870 – 1950 AD Factory work Drone operation
1950 – 1985 AD Engineering Social media management
1985 – 2020 AD Programming Hunting
2020 – ? ?

Those born in 50,000 BC with great analytical minds, an ability to imagine complex systems and a natural gift for algorithms, were s**t out of luck as they chowed down on the lips and hooves that remained from what people with valuable skills at the time (hunting) brought home.

Fast forward to 2020. If your main skill is a knack for knowing the precise moment when to launch a spear at large mammals, you will never know how valuable you would have been to society 48,000 years earlier as you search for gainful employment.

In other words, any innate skill or ability you possess may or may not be useful in your current context. But what if you’ve got skills that are current and in demand, but don’t fit into a given bucket?

The bucket list

Organizations recruit people to fill a specific need or “bucket”. For example, a company may need IT and communication staff.

A drawing of a stick man labelled "you" near two buckets labelled "IT" and "COMMS"

You’d think that — all other things being equal — if you had digital communications skills, you’d be a perfect fit at this company: you straddle both buckets that are in demand!

A drawing of a stick man labelled "you" on top of two buckets labelled "IT" and "COMMS"

Unfortunately, it takes a special kind of organization to recognize people’s unique skills and make good use of them, especially when those skills don’t fall into a specific bucket. These organizations are called “unicorns” and are extremely rare. Often, people that don’t fit into a given bucket stay perched on the lip of two or more and fall into none of them. This makes for a less-than-satisfying career.

A drawing of a stick man labelled "you" on top of two buckets labelled "IT" and "COMMS"

There are two ways out of this dilemna: find a unicorn or fight to create a new bucket.

A picture of a stick figure labelled "you" in a bucket labelled "Digital Comms" between two buckets labelled "IT" and "Comms"

Unicorns are rare, but they do exist. Creating a new bucket is a more realistic alternative, but takes a lot of hard work. More on this in Part II next week.



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