• Mark Syphus

Fishing: The Best Business School

Updated: Nov 1, 2019

Even after all these years, I still remember my first time ever fishing as a small boy. My father took me to a beautiful reservoir up in the mountains with a crystal clear stream flowing into it. He showed me how to put a salmon egg on the hook and throw it out into the stream. We walked up and down the stream trying different spots and I never got a single bite. Eventually, we found a dead fish floating in one of the pools. Fortunately, we were prepared with a dip net so my father could make a memorable experience for me. We scooped up the fish in the net and took it back to the rest of the family telling them I caught the fish! Technically, I did catch it. No one needed to know it was already dead when I caught it, yet somehow they all knew anyway.

I don’t know why, but I was hooked (pardon the pun) on fishing ever since then. You’d think I would hate fishing since we didn’t catch a thing the whole time we were there. Perhaps it was the excitement of finding and catching a dead fish. Maybe it was the excitement of trying to find and catch a live fish. The thrill of trying something new may also have played a part in it. Regardless, the point was that my failed attempt at fishing the first time didn’t prevent me from trying again…and again…and again. In fact, I grew to become quite the expert fisherman. It seemed like I could catch fish anywhere I went. When I went fishing with friends, I’d always catch the most fish, too! Believe it or not, I even taught one of my friends how to fish.

So what happened? How did I go from netting dead fish to teaching others how to fish? It started when I heard someone say to use a chartreuse floating bait at the local pond. I told my dad about the tip and we acted accordingly. Sure enough, it worked! Then I started talking about fishing with other people, checking fishing reports, watching TV shows, and even taking a fly fishing class. Mostly, however, I just talked to people fishing near me whenever I saw them catch a fish. “What are you using?” Oftentimes, passersby would just take the initiative to voluntarily divulge their secret fishing tips. I even had a complete stranger give me one of his special flies once!

It’s funny how complete strangers can go to a pond and compete over who can catch the most or biggest fish, yet completely work together to help everyone succeed. There’s a natural tendency among fishermen to share their expertise with others. Oddly enough, there’s also a tendency for fishermen to try out even the craziest suggestions. I once caught a 5 lb carp with a piece of grass! Talk about curiosity paying off!

However, when it comes to business, we oftentimes refuse to listen to others or seek out advice. Although reasons may vary, there’s usually an element of pride involved. Some may not want to look weak so they show they can do it all on their own. Others may be strong and capable already so they don’t want to bother asking others how to do something. “Why should I get feedback if I already know I’m right?”

People with these kinds of attitudes may truly be competent and successful, but in all honesty, they could be even more successful if they’d consult with others. This is especially true when working on complex projects. Usually there is already a cross-functional, capable team assigned to the project. They come up with a solution that takes into consideration a variety of needs. Yet, despite the planning, there are still surprises at implementation. This is why it is often recommended for the team to take their analyses and solutions to an outside set of eyes for validation.

Some companies are reluctant to hire consultants because they feel like they should have all the competence they need within the ranks of their own employees. It is true you want competence within your team, but having an outside set of eyes can be beneficial no matter how competent your team is. Consultants have experience across a variety of industries and companies so they see a lot of good ideas and bad ideas. Oftentimes, employees mostly just have experience in your own industry. This is good, but it can be a game changer to get ideas from outside the box! We don’t like to admit it, but employees also have to worry about internal politics while consultants don’t. Therefore, a consultant can help you get non-biased feedback.

When fishermen at a pond share their expertise and listen to each other, the overall fishing success at the pond increases. Likewise, when people at work start sharing their experience and listening to each other, including outside ideas, the success of the entire business grows.

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