Teaching Businesses How to Fish

May 21, 2008

By Michael J. Tatham, Founder & CEO, The Tatham Group

As a summer resident of Moose Lake, I step onto the dock on an early August morning and breathe the fresh northern air, taking note of any wind. I pause to look across the lake, at the sky and the trees. Westward, a loon sings its lonely, haunting cry. It may seem still, but everything is teeming with activity and life. It’s a perfect morning to go fishing.

I have learned over the years how to get a sustainable, consistent, reliable and repeatable outcome from my fishing process by understanding the fundamentals of fishing on my lake. I catch fish every day without fail. Friends have often joined me and are always delighted to catch fish, but they have never been successful on their own. Simply following my process was not reliable. They are dependant on me because they didn’t take the time to understand the basic variables that need to be considered every time you go fishing.

Now if you really want to become a great fisherman, I can’t simply give you my process and expect you to get the same results as I would. If a variable changes, and they always do, you will be unable to adjust without truly understanding the process. The only way I have been able to successfully transfer this knowledge is to pass it onto my children and by keeping it a secret. I taught them to create their own process and then coached them along until they understood all the variables and how they interact with one another. Interestingly, their fishing process turned out to be the same as mine, but with the added benefit of making it their own so that it would be sustainable for them. With their fundamental understanding of how to adjust their behaviour to account for the variables in their process, they are able to head out on any lake, in any weather at any time of the year and always catch fish. They are truly great fisherman.

At our cottage on Moose Lake, if we’re not reading or swimming or watching the kids jump off the nearby cliffs, we’re taking the boat for a cruise around the lake. Sometimes, we run into visiting fisherman. “Excuse me,” says the captain of a fancy bass boat with all the latest high-tech gear, artificial baits and sonar fish finders. “Do you happen to know how to catch fish on this lake?” he asks. “Nope. Sorry. ” I reply. “Just keep doing what you’ve always done and be patient,” I tell him. “Funny,” he muses, “I know this lake is full of fish. I can see them on my finder screen but they just won’t bite.” I feel like telling him he should have taken the time to learn the rudiments of fishing before buying all the gear, but he was so proud of it I didn’t have the heart to tell him we catch plenty of fish without it. However, I did invite him to leave his boat at home and join my son in the canoe — but he didn’t bite.

My fishing experience is a true metaphor for the principles of The Tatham Group. We teach our clients how to fish. We invite them into our canoe, leaving all the high technology gear behind. We teach them the essentials of fishing by coaching them through a systematic method to create their own processes and allow them to achieve new levels of business performance previously deemed impossible. Their new capability becomes part of their business DNA, it develops highly motivated and creative employees with a focus on innovation and customer loyalty. Here’s the moral of the story: if you need a quick fix and don’t have the time (or can’t be bothered) to learn how to fish, then hire a fisherman. But if you want to catch fish forever, learn the fundamentals of fishing and create your own process.