The Fisherman and the MBA: Living Into Principles
The folks at Anecdote reminded me of this story:
An American businessman was standing at the pier of a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked. Inside the small boat were several large yellowfin tuna. The American complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish.
“How long it took you to catch them?” The American asked.
“Only a little while.” The Mexican replied.
“Why don’t you stay out longer and catch more fish?” The American then asked.
“I have enough to support my family’s immediate needs.” The Mexican said.
“But,” The American then asked, “What do you do with the rest of your time?”
The Mexican fisherman said, “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take a siesta with my wife, Maria, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos, I have a full and busy life, senor.”
The American scoffed, “I am a Harvard MBA and could help you. You should spend more time fishing and with the proceeds you buy a bigger boat, and with the proceeds from the bigger boat you could buy several boats, eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats.”
“Instead of selling your catch to a middleman you would sell directly to the consumers, eventually opening your own can factory. You would control the product, processing and distribution. You would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City, then LA and eventually NYC where you will run your expanding enterprise.”
The Mexican fisherman asked, “But senor, how long will this all take?”
To which the American replied, “15-20 years.”
“But what then, senor?”
The American laughed and said, “That’s the best part. When the time is right you would announce an IPO (Initial Public Offering) and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich, you would make millions.”
“Millions, senor? Then what?”
The American said slowly, “Then you would retire. Move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take a siesta with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos…”
This story highlights the importance of the purpose and principles in the chaordic stepping stones, the planning process I use to design participatory conversation processes. The chaordic stepping stones help us walk the chaordic path – not having too much structure that we tip into control, or too little that we tip into chaos- about finding just enough structure and order to keep moving forward. Here’s a high level description:
The first step is identifying the real need, followed by formulating a clear purpose, then defining the principles that help guide us towards our goal (as attributes or characteristics describing where we want to be or how we want to get there), gradually proceeding to defining a concept, then giving it more structure and moving into practice. These steps can be used both as a planning tool and to help understand what you are discovering about an organisation, community or initiative.
In the fisherman’s story, the principles that guide his life might have been described as having ample rest each day, making music with friends, having daily peaceful connection time with his wife. With these principles articulated it becomes clearer how he can plan his way forward and live into a life that honours these principles throughout the journey, not just in the destination.
That is what participatory conversation design is like. If you are wanting to create change where all voices are heard, but the planning team only represents one group, then you are missing the opportunity to start ‘being the change’. If you want to have an event with more ‘turn to each other’ dialogue and connecting time but the agenda is full of one-to-many presentations then you have missed the opporutnity to align to the principles of the gathering.
The questions in the charodic stepping stones help define those principles before agendas and events are in place. They become the guiding star that everything else unfolds from, supporting all kinds of little and big decisions. How should the room be arranged? Look back to your principles. How should the agenda be designed? Look back to your principles. How should our planning meetings flow? Look back to your principles.
It is so tempting to dive right into planning the concept and structure, missing the earlier steps of defining the need, purpose, principles, and people. And even if you have already penciled out your agenda it isn’t too late to go back as a planning team and discuss them, then making shifts to bring those principles to life. Remember the fisherman and the MBA and the lesson of being able to live into your principles every day.