Published here August 2010


Musings Index

Buckets versus Pipelines

A friend of mine recently asked me what had I been doing all my life, not just as a project practitioner (he knew that already as we had worked together in the past), but doing with my life? Was there not a better way to look forward to retirement for example? As a project manager you are expected to be an excellent problem solver, but how much time do we spend on problem solving only to discover after much effort that we have been trying to solve the wrong problem! Is it possible that this is the case with the way we work?

Essentially, whether we are employed full time or are self-employed, we sell our time in return for a revenue stream. If we are good and work hard we get a little more. If not, well, then we get less. When we stop working we get next to nothing. But could we not invest our effort in such a way that eventually we generate a revenue stream with virtually very little further work at all? Essentially, this is how rich people get very rich.

My friend told me this story and introduced me to the Parable of the Pipeline.

"A few months ago, I came across an audio tape by Robert Kiyosaki titled: What My Rich Dad Taught Me About Investing. Robert tells a brief story about two young men who were hired for a project to deliver water from a lake to their village a mile away. One of the young men used buckets to carry the water. The other young man built a pipeline. Over the long run, the young man who invested time to build the pipeline fared far better than the bucket carrier.

Why? The answer is in the Parable of the Pipeline, by Burke Hedges, as briefly described above.[1]

A doctor driving his four-year old daughter to daycare left his stethoscope on the car seat. The daughter reached over and started playing with it. 'My daughter wants to follow in my footsteps,' the doctor thought to himself. 'This is the proudest moment of my life'. The child arranged the stethoscope around her neck and held the sensor in front of her like a microphone and said: 'Welcome to McDonald's; may I take your order?'

This cute story illustrates why we gravitate to bucket carrying jobs - it's called 'monkey see, monkey do.' The little girl had been to McDonald's so often that she mistook the stethoscope for a headset and copycatted the way the employees talked to customers. Like the little girl, most people mistake bucket carrying for pipeline building. We observe that 99% of the people carry buckets. So we naturally assume that bucket carrying is the only way to get what we want in life. We grow up surrounded by broke bucket-carriers, so we figure that's the way of the world.

It reminds me of a car bumper sticker I saw recently: 100,000 lemmings can't be wrong! People think the same about bucket carrying - 100 million bucket carriers can't be wrong! Well, yes they can! Let's face it; there are a lot more bucket carriers in this world than there are pipeline builders. Why? Because bucket carrying is the model that our parents followed and the one it taught us to follow.

The bucket-carrying model tells you that in a bucket carrying world, here's what you have to do to get ahead:

Go to bucket school and learn how to carry buckets. Work really hard. Earn the right to carry bigger buckets. Resign from Bucket Company A to work for Bucket Company B, which lets you carry even bigger buckets. Work long hours so that you can carry even more buckets. Put your children through bucket carrying college. Change careers from carrying metal buckets to carrying plastic buckets ... to carrying digital buckets. Dream of the day you can retire from bucket carrying. Until then, keep on carrying those buckets ... !!

So what do bucket carriers do when they need more money? Because they have a bucket carrying mentality, they come up with a bucket carrying solution - if you need more money, you've simply got to carry more buckets. Bucket carriers reason that bigger buckets mean bigger paychecks. So bucket carriers tell themselves that everything is okay if they could just get a job carrying bigger buckets.

We're living in the most affluent economy in decades. Yet millions of people are still living from paycheck to paycheck, working longer and longer hours just to stay even. Why? Because they have bought into the wrong plan! They have fallen into the "time-for-money" trap. You know, a day's work for a day's pay, or a month's work for a month's pay. Sound familiar? Whether you're a $15,000-a-year dishwasher or a $150,000-a-year doctor, you're still trading one unit of time for one unit of money. You're still living paycheck to paycheck. As for "job security" - if you can't continue working because of illness, injury, retrenchment or retirement - the paychecks stop! Where's the security in that strategy?"

Moral of this story? Buckets eventually dry up.

So how do you escape from the "time-for-money" trap? Simple. By building pipelines from ongoing, residual income. With residual income, you do the work once and get paid over and over again. That's why one pipeline is worth a thousand paychecks. Pipelines keep pumping day after day, year after year, whether you're there to do the work or not. Now, that's freedom - true financial freedom! You can 'pay a little now' by investing some of your time and money to build your pipelines today, or you can 'pay a lot later' by struggling to survive on whatever is left in your savings account when you retire.

Most people have it all wrong about time and wealth. Wealth is not the same as income. If you make a good income each year and spend it all on pleasure that takes up all your time, you are not getting wealthier. You are just living higher. Wealth is what you accumulate, not what you spend.

How do you become wealthy? Here, too, most people have it wrong. It is seldom luck or inheritance or advanced degrees or even intelligence that enables people to amass fortunes. Wealth is more the result of a lifestyle of hard work, perseverance, planning and most of all, self-discipline.

In other words, buckets, no matter how big they are, will eventually dry up. Pipelines, on the other hand, are self-sustaining. But pipelines require a sacrifice. Pipelines don't build themselves. You have to take the time and make the effort to build them. If you look upon your life as the supreme project, then it's all about what you do at the front end. You all know that you have to get that right if you want to have a really successful project.

In a world of projects, your pipelines are your lifelines!

1. The Parable of the Pipeline is a "once upon a time" story. You can read a more complete version here:
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