Its customary these days to hear people in meetings talk about “bucketing things. As the board room conversation goes forward, participants start “bucketing this and “bucketing that. They are making order of the conversation, but it feels often as if the roof is merely leaking.
It is not a pretty metaphor, and it doesnt particularly flatter the people in the room. If “buckets is the best we can do, perhaps this is not the most adroit conceptual activity, and perhaps the corporation deserves better.
Indeed, just about everyone I know makes fun of the bucketing turn of phrase. But we all use it anyhow. It occurred to me the other day that this phrase might be a symptom of the nature of discourse in the corporate world. In the anthropological manner, I began to wonder whether the phrase did not reveal something more fundamental about the culture in place.
Lets assume, and for anyone who has spent any time in a boardroom, this is an easy assumption, that corporate discourse is a newly complicated thing. Under the influence of complexity theory and other ideas designed to give us a leg up on the new dynamism of the marketplace, we are encouraged to contemplate many possibilities from many points of view. Even the simplest problem admits of several, radically different, treatments. The boardroom task is to think its way out of this complexity to a plausible action plan.
The bucket metaphor has two advantages. The first is to let us honor the first rule of complexity theory: that we must work with heterogeneous problem sets. We must honor the complexity of the world by being very careful not to oversimplify it. “Buckets is a good metaphor because it says, in effect, “we believe all these things go together, but we are not insisted how. We leave that for later.
Furthermore, buckets allows us to proceed even when we dont have full consensus. I am not talking about the political tensions that have always haunted corporate discourse. Im talking about the multiplicity of points of view that a complex approach to things inevitably encourages, indeed demands. The “buckets approach says, “we are not saying which point of view is privileged by this categorization. We are not insisting on one approach. By bucketing these considerations, we are agreeing to disagree at a later time.
Its not a pretty phrase, and its not an elegant one, but “buckets does suggest that something might be happening to the conceptual architecture with which we address the problems of the corporate world as it takes on the new dynamism of the marketplace. “Buckets are, by metaphoric implication, messy, uncertain categories. But there are within these limits stable ones. They allow us to say “We the people believe these considerations are somehow related and belong together.
Its possible that this slightly risible metaphor is in fact a harbinger of the new intellectual order and difficulty of discourse in a complicated and dynamic world.