Bucket Makers and Bucket Fillers


I was in Boston yesterday to deliver a keynote at Front End of Innovation. I flew in a few days early so that I could spend time getting to know some of the conference participants, explore the scene, and get a general sense of the kinds of innovation-related issues they are dealing with. Many conversations inevitably turned to the topic of the forces that inhibit personal and organizational innovation. I noticed a recurring theme.

There are two kinds of innovators: bucket makers, and bucket fillers. Bucket makers are people who love to develop new concepts, categories, and products. They’re happiest when they are exploring the fringes of their category, and prototyping innovative new solutions to problems. There is a high failure rate for bucket makers, but the excitement of creating something brand new is what drives them. They are product innovators, and can’t stand to do the same thing over and over.

Bucket fillers, on the other hand, are process innovators. They love filling the buckets that others have made in new and creative ways. They are happiest when they have firm boundaries within which to do their work. They can take something that already exists and continuously make it fresh, exciting, and valuable.

Here’s the challenge: many people who are bucket makers eventually find themselves in the role of bucket filler. They develop an elegant new solution, but then they find that they are responsible for maintaining it, keeping it fresh, and continuously filling it. They get bored and frustrated, because deep down they crave the opportunity to go create something completely new.

Similarly, many bucket fillers are pushed out to the fringes where they are less effective and forced to deal with excess uncertainty and ill-defined boundaries. They may find that they are less effective until given specific edges within which to do their work. The innovate best with defined boundaries.

It’s important to understand which kind of innovator you are, and to try to align your role and activities (or those of your team) accordingly. It might be worth a conversation with your peers to determine who is most comfortable pushing boundaries and who is most comfortable making the territory that’s already been defined tremendously valuable.

While there are never perfectly neat boundaries for these innovator types, and no perfect roles, understanding them can help you better align your focus, time, and energy with the activities that will help you provide the most value.

So which type of innovator are you: bucket maker, or bucket filler?

Todd FEI

Todd Henry

Todd Henry

Positioning himself as an “arms dealer for the creative revolution”, Todd Henry teaches leaders and organizations how to establish practices that lead to everyday brilliance. He is the author of five books (The Accidental Creative, Die Empty, Louder Than Words, Herding Tigers, The Motivation Code) which have been translated into more than a dozen languages, and he speaks and consults across dozens of industries on creativity, leadership, and passion for work.

Be prolific, brilliant, and healthy.

Accidental Creative helps creative pros do the best work of their lives. Our workshopstools, and podcasts will help you have better ideas, collaborate seamlessly, and thrive under pressure.


Since 2005 we've served up weekly podcast episodes to help you stay prolific, brilliant, and healthy. Follow the show in your favorite app:

Get Our Weekly Email

3 Things, guaranteed to spark an idea or make you think, sent straight to your inbox every Sunday.

We will only send you things we believe will be useful, and you can unsubscribe at any time.


The Brainstorming Blueprint is a 4 video course where you’ll learn the ready-to-use techniques that can help you lead better, more effective ideation sessions.

Avoid The Pitfalls

The Brainstorming Blueprint is a 4 video course where you’ll learn the ready-to-use techniques that can help you lead better, more effective ideation sessions.

Escape Creative Ruts

Feeling “stuck” comes with the territory. Learn some tried-and-true approaches for guiding your team out of the ruts and into brilliance. 

Make Good Decisions

How do you decide which idea is the right idea?  Without a proper framework you risk setting your team up for failure.

Always Be Leading

Your everyday job is to manage the invisible forces that either cultivate or kill creativity, ideation, and innovation within your team.

Share This