Can you remember this old campfire song that describes the conundrum faced by Henry who asks for some problem solving advice from his partner, Liza? Unfortunately for Henry, part of the solution requires the provision of water which can’t be carried because, you’ve guessed it, there’s a hole in his bucket! In fact this circular rhyme can go on endlessly without the problem ever being fixed.
I noticed this paradox in an improvement project being tackled in one organisation and named it the ‘Bucket Paradox’ for obvious reasons!!
The team had taken part in a high energy away day with many others in the company – a two day problem solving event involving thirty or so people. Three months after the event, the teams reviewed progress in an 'after action review' and it became apparent that some teams had made real progress but two had become stuck. They explored the reasons why and found that the two unsuccessful teams were made up of individuals based at different locations and therefore required good communication processes between each other to continue working towards their goal. The subject that the teams had decided to tackle was that ‘We fail to communicate effectively with each other between sites’! So the problem they were trying to solve needed to be fixed before they could tackle it…the ‘Bucket Paradox’!
So here's a piece of advice...if the existence of the problem your tackling prevents you from tackling it in the first place...then there could be a hole in your bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza!