Give a Man a Fish

Have you heard the old Chinese proverb- ‘Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime!’
I am sure you have heard and thought about its meaning when applied to life but what does it mean to us in business?

Imagine you are exploring a jungle and one day you come across a remote tribe living next to a large lake. The village is starving but the lake is stocked with huge edible fish, you can see them jumping. You are amazed the village can’t see the opportunity.

Before you know it you have engineered a fishing rod, got some bait and you are catching fish and feeding the tribe. They become reliant on you, so you decide to teach them how to fish. It doesn’t take you long and soon the tribe is fishing for themselves.

They are so happy. In fact, you are honoured by the tribe. Your job done, you leave them to their newly found skills and you can go off to explore new areas.

A year later you decide to return to see how they are getting on and you are horrified to find them starving again. What’s happened? The conditions in the lake have changed, there are still fish, you can see them, it’s just they have gone deeper and are no longer taking the same bait.

So what is the moral of the story?

Isn’t it just like business? The business owner starts his business and builds the team but to start off they are fully reliant on him to feed them. In this role they are locked into the business and as soon as they try to move away the business slows. The business owner works very hard and builds up some surplus for potential problems in the future (giving them the fish).

The next stage is to teach the employees their job. Soon, the basic operations are being covered by others, (the owner has taught them how to fish). Everything is good. The conditions in the business environment are benign (the lake).

The business owner can now leave the business in the capable hands of the team and they go off to take some of that long earned rest.

However, the trading conditions change (how they used to fish no longer applies). The customers (fish) are no longer biting but the team do not know what to do. The surplus is soon gone and profits disappear.

The team cannot adapt to the new conditions as they only know one way, they don’t understand how to make the most of the new market. (The lake).

Do you understand what is going on in your lake?

How can you adapt to make sure you can still follow your fish?

How can you build a surplus even in uncertain times?

Recently we showed one of our clients, Tony, the ‘Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day’ story and after some thought he told us the following story which really adds another level.

He said that recently he went fishing with his eight year old son at a local lake. They spent most of the morning without too much luck. They had caught a couple of tiddlers but the big fish just weren’t biting.

A little further down the bank there was another father and son who also weren’t having much luck but were doing slightly better. By mid afternoon this couple had had enough and decided to call it a day. Trevor’s son thought as they were having a little more luck he would move to their pitch.

Another hour went by and still no bites. They moved on again and next pitch was just as bad. Trevor’s son came back a bit dejected and said ‘Come on dad let’s call it a day and go for a drink” A great call from an eight year old!!!

Now, right down the other end of the lake there happens to be a lovely hotel with grounds that run down to the lake with a decking down by the water. They quickly packed up and headed down to the Hotel.

Once they settled down at the water edge at the hotel they could look back up the lake to see all the other fisherman at the other end of the lake- they all looked so fed up as it was obvious that none of them were being successful the fish just weren’t biting.

Trevor’s son took his bag of biscuits and wandered along the bank. Suddenly he called back excitedly ‘Come and have a look’. There right by the bank was the biggest swim of huge fish they had ever seen. They threw in a few biscuits and even more arrived. Trevor thought we could just wade in and pick them out. The fish were still there they had just moved down the lake. No wonder no one was catching anything!!

So what is the moral of the story? What’s it to do with business?

It’s so easy to think that all the fish (customers) in the lake have disappeared because your sales and profits are sliding. In fact, all that’s happened is they have changed their habit. In Trevor’s example they had all gone down the other end of the lake.

In business, especially in the current climate, we have to be really tuned into what our customers want. They may want more or not what the market usually offers.  If we continue to fish for them how we always have we may not get the results we want. It is up to us to change to meet the conditions. If we don’t someone else will.

The fish haven’t gone they are just in another area of the lake. We have to find them and figure out what are their needs. If we stay doing what we always did we could end up out in the cold. This may involve changing where and how we fish.

To take the first step find out where your fish have gone

visit:  or call 01245 392010 now.


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