Go-getter Steven Kaufman wasn’t sure what his next enterprise would be—until he bumped into Norm LeMay at WasteExpo in 2012. And the duo has been inseparable ever since.
That serendipitous moment three years ago in Las Vegas served as a launch pad for new careers as the Disposal Dream Team. Kaufman and LeMay published “The Garbageman’s Guide to Life: How to Get Out of the Dumps” in January 2014. These trash talkers offer down-to-earth guidance about how excising mental rubbish from your mind can enhance your personal and professional life.
Titles of topics they delve into include “Toss That Trash: How To Clear Your Mind and Jumpstart Your Life,” “Park Your Ego: How to Unleash Your Inner Garbageman,” “All Right Turns: How To Create Your Route To Success” and “Leave It In the Landfill: Recover from Past Mistakes, Overcome Hesitancy and Move On.”
“We are equal partners in this,” says LeMay of Gig Harbor, Wash. “When I tried doing this by myself, I found I had little pieces but never had enough ingredients for the whole pie.”
LeMay, a baby boomer, grew up in the family business south of Tacoma, Wash., a waste management company that his father acquired in a swap for an old truck. He taught art at a junior high school until returning to the family enterprise in 1984—and transforming it into an asset worth upward of $300 million.
Kaufman, a Generation Xer and Stanford University graduate, traveled the globe as a consultant for Fortune 500 companies. Afterward, the Portland, Ore., resident co-founded Routeware, an automated route-tracking system for the waste industry.
He had heard about LeMay before meeting him because his Routeware salesman would always come back from visits with LeMay bubbling over about his personality.
“You meet Norm and after five minutes you feel like you know him,” Kaufman says, recalling the day they forged a business partnership over glasses of wine in a hotel lobby during WasteExpo. “We decided we needed to get life according to the garbageman down on paper and out to the public.”
“With our teaching we’re asking, ‘What is more important, the garbage or the destination you’re trying to reach?’” he says.
Kaufman and LeMay will be leading a session entitled “Multigenerational Workforces: Bridging the Gap and Tossing the Generational Trash” at this year’s WasteExpo in Las Vegas. The session will take place on Monday, June 1 at 9:00 AM. They sat down with Waste360 to discuss their book and offer some industry advice.
Waste360: Does your book fit into a specific genre?
Steven Kaufman: Well, Amazon classifies it as self-help or motivational but this isn’t just another Dr. Feelgood book. It’s about getting rid of the trash, which people physically do at least once a week when they roll their can to the curb. Our philosophy is help people by layering our methods with a metaphor they already understand about garbage. We show you or your organization how to get relief by dumping what you don’t need. Then you can see what has been blocked.
Norm LeMay: This is a life-changing book. Our culture teaches people how to acquire things but not how to get rid of them. One of our very basic concepts is that anything that has no value is really garbage. It’s just cluttering your mind. We want to provide readers with aha moments that allow them to see their lives differently.
Waste 360: Your clients include Nike, the Oregon Dental Executives Association, the Oregon Employer Council and the Stanford Association of Oregon. Why does the trash industry also need to hear from you?
Steven Kaufman: The beauty of the metaphor of garbage is that it’s flexible and universal enough to work in any industry. Our goal is to take our message to every waste company because they already understand our language. If you turn a blind eye to the culture of your business, you get what you get and you can’t complain. We show companies how to invest in that culture by removing the garbage in relationships, systems and how customers are treated. That’s when things begin to change.
Norm LeMay: Lots of waste companies are small family businesses. They are so busy working their routes that they don’t take the time to discover if they’re getting the most out of their workforce. It’s hard to make the transition to becoming a larger corporate institution. But the most productive industries are the ones continually getting rid of garbage. Pioneers heading west in wagons had to offload some of their worldly goods when they became a burden at mountain crossings. The nature of life, as we continue to move forward with new goals and challenges, is that sometimes our most cherished possessions become garbage.
Waste360: At this year’s WasteExpo, your topic is “Multigenerational Workforces: Bridging the Gap and Tossing the Generational Trash.” What is this about?
Norm LeMay: Workplaces are shifting. Baby boomers are walking off the stage and millennials are climbing on. When baby boomers are told, ‘there’s your route, go do it,’ they never question the boss. Millennials will ask why. Leaders need to understand that each generation has a different culture and dynamic and you’re doomed if you don’t try to understand and respect them.
Part of building the best and most cooperative team in this industry means letting the workers define what the garbage is so they can get rid of it. You can’t get mad at garbage, just like nobody gets mad at a banana for having a peel. Garbage is inherent. Cleaning it out is a never-ending process. Do it so you can get on with the journey, that path to your goals.
Waste360: What do you tell critics who are leery about being overwhelmed with yet more information?
Steven Kaufman: What’s encouraging is that people don’t have to learn anything new because they already know how to do this. Once you become aware of your garbage and what you need do with it, you’ll never forget it. Sure, you can ignore it but we’re teaching you the awareness piece and how to recognize what you need to dump. There’s no ambiguity.
Waste360: You’ve coined the term “inner garbageman”. Explain that.
Norm LeMay: Your inner garbageman provides you with that sense of awareness about what has value and what has to go. We want people to recognize their old habits and walk away with new tools. If you find yourself as a boss judging a young employee as useless, your inner garbageman has to intervene and say, “Whoa! I need to look at this differently.”
Steven Kaufman: He opens your eyes to patterns such as hoarding and pays attention to ways of thinking, acting, judging and processing. For example, your inner garbageman can ask why your company clings to a meeting that everybody hates but attends anyway, or why your garage has become a storage unit for stuff you have to tiptoe around instead of a place to park your car. Imagine the time and space you would have for new thoughts and ideas if that junk was cleared out.
Waste360: Can you cite an example where you’ve been grateful you followed your own advice?
Norm LeMay: As I get older, exercise is becoming more because it’s crucial for my health. I can argue with myself and make all kinds of excuses not to exercise but I view those roadblocks as mental garbage I need to toss. If there’s something I want to do, I need to find a way to do it. That’s similar to a company trying to meet the basic needs of the business and make employees as productive as possible. Leaders can’t make excuses. Garbage is what gets in the way of us being the best we can be. By calling it garbage, there’s no question what it is—something that needs to be thrown away.
Waste360: Why do you think people should take you seriously as authors?
Steven Kaufman: We asked ourselves that very question when we were getting set up because we don’t have degrees in psychology or 30 years of counseling experience. Credibility is built by knowledge of content, not by the letters after your name. Both of us have a lot of experience in the waste industry, including boots on the ground. That, combined with living on the planet like everybody else, has allowed us to look at this from a philosophical viewpoint. This work has become our passion. If you layer that passion with our business and professional backgrounds, you have the three-legged stool we’ve created together.
Waste360: Why are you often pictured holding up a metal trashcan?
Steven Kaufman: Fifteen minutes into any course we teach, we tell participants to write down what they want to get rid of. Then they toss that thought in the trashcan. Later on, we read their thoughts but we keep them to ourselves. What people write on those pieces of paper is humbling. They share their most intimate thoughts, whether it is about a job, their mother’s cancer or a troubled relationship with a child. If we didn’t have credibility, people wouldn’t trust us with that kind of personal information.
Waste360: Has anybody ever thanked you in a way that you still treasure?
Steven Kaufman: After one talk, we received an e-mail from a woman experiencing challenges with death and divorce. She had done somewhat similar coursework before but our words resonated with her because she was finally able to move on with her life. It was an extraordinary moment, realizing we could help somebody like that.
Waste360: Which is the more difficult profession, writing or toiling in the trash industry?
Norm LeMay: Collecting trash is hard work and grinding because it keeps recurring. But I grew up with that so it comes naturally. I found the book more difficult because the contents have to grab people’s attention and make them understand that what’s inside is something they need to hear. I have the answers but they need to stick with it long enough to see the value.