Last night I had the pleasure of presenting to the DC Lean Startup Circle community. The theme was around the hidden costs of following the Lean startup methodology, and I closed with an abridged, slightly mangled version of this parable about a fisherman in Mexico. As a make-good I’m posting the complete version below.
The point I was making is that in life there’s often a tendency to size up how you rate versus something else: another person, company, or lofty goal. This is exacerbated in a startup, and particularly for practicians of Lean, where close monitoring of metrics, A/B testing and constant challenging of assumptions are key tenets. It can be often grueling work towards what seem like moving targets. But if we’re passionate about what we’re doing right now, that won’t matter. We’ll still be making progress, but we’ll enjoy the journey. LIke the fisherman, we’ll “already be home” (a phrase inspired by a similarly named Jay-Z track). Here’s the story:
A boat docked in a tiny Mexican village. An American tourist complimented the Mexican fisherman on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took him to catch them. “Not very long,” answered the Mexican. “But then, why didn’t you stay out longer and catch more?” asked the American. The Mexican explained that his small catch was sufficient to meet his needs and those of his family. The American asked, “But what do you do with the rest of your time?” “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, and take a siesta with my wife. In the evenings, I go into the village to see my friends, have a few drinks, play the guitar, and sing a few songs … I have a full life.” The American interrupted, “I have an MBA from Harvard and I can help you! You should start by fishing longer every day. You can then sell the extra fish you catch. With the extra revenue, you can buy a bigger boat. “And after that?” asked the Mexican. With the extra money the larger boat will bring, you can buy a second one and a third one and so on until you have an entire fleet of trawlers. Instead of selling your fish to a middle man, you can then negotiate directly with the processing plants and maybe even open your own plant. You can then leave this little village and move to Mexico City, Los Angeles, or even New York City! From there you can direct your huge new enterprise.” “How long would that take?” asked the Mexican. “Twenty, perhaps 25 years,” replied the American. “And after that?” the Mexican asked. “Afterwards? That’s when it gets really interesting,” answered the American, laughing. “When your business gets really big, you can start selling stocks and make millions!” “Millions? Really? And after that?” “After that you’ll be able to retire, live in a tiny village near the coast, sleep late, play with your children, catch a few fish, take a siesta with your wife and spend your evenings drinking and enjoying your friends.”