Give me the fish, don’t teach me fishing!

In our fast moving, fast changing world, ancient wisdom may no longer apply. And chances are it is true.

There is this proverb with unclear origins yet sounding ancient and wise:

“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 can imagine the old bearded man in white robe sitting under a very old tree on some mountain top, the wise hermit you come see after a long, difficult and dangerous climbing. You seek guidance and this is the kind of advice he gives you.

These were times when time was slow and a man had to take care himself about many aspects of his daily life.

Nowadays when someone asks for a fish, they want the fish. And they want it now. They don’t care about the details how to catch the fish, it is just about immediate satisfaction of the need of fish.

Why care about the fishing technique? In a world of interconnected networks it is enough to know someone who masters the fishing technique.

Nobody cares climbing the mountain for advice either, the wise old man is a digital native of less than 18 years and his cave is named Facebook, twitter, snapchat… you name it.

Why investing time to learn fishing? Maybe next month it will all be about deer, beef or strawberries, apple pie or orange juice. We can’t learn all the related hunting, farming and cooking techniques according to the need or big thing of the moment. We simply have to turn it to specialists.

Furthermore, when asked for a fish and teaching fishing instead, chances are that the mentor and mentee go into the technical details of fishing or the pro and cons of this and that gear, to a point they’re likely to forget about the initial problem to solve: getting fed with fish.

The final irony is to die starving savvy about fishing.

Where is all this getting us to?

Just as when a customer is looking to satisfy his/her need, he/she is probably not interested in the details, specifications and technical aspects of the solution, he/she is awaiting results. The same applies when a CEO or senior manager has a problem to solve, he/she calls in a specialist and ask him/her for a quick fix. The methodology used is of almost no interest, it’s about the fish (the need) not fishing (the means).

Therefore putting Lean, Six Sigma or Theory of Constraints to the forefront only pleases the promoter, not the customer. The later is asking for a quick fix, not a catalog of nice tools and techniques that might eventually solve his/her problem.

Looking for internal people to take over (learning how to fish), sustain and hopefully continuously improve tends to get out of fashion. With more and more disruptions in any technologies or businesses and the acceleration of all cycles, planning for long term is happy guess at best and long term a very relative concept.

A business owner, CEO or senior executive may not stay in position long enough to see the outcome of the teach-don’t-do approach. Even the long established organization may not exist long enough to think about sustainability of this or that methodology.

As a result, business consultants or special interest groups should advertise more about their results and achievements than their favorite toolbox to attract decision-makers’ attention as these are looking for the fish, not the fishing.

My hermitage is my blog, you can join the meditation here.

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One thought on “Give me the fish, don’t teach me fishing!

  1. Chris, you are changing the paradigm. My take is that it might be true for executives that sit in the corner office, expect the fish in silver platter but for the individual who they are calling to solve a problem (which they see) must be knowledgable and savvy in the technique of fishing. Otherwise how will the solution to the problem be found and fix implemented.
    It seems to me (my perception) that if everyone starts behaving like an executive (give me the fish) will support promoting “buy and throw away” behavior rather than “fixing” the item and learning how not to make mistake again.


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