I have always had a passion for fishing.  There is just something about planning how you are going to get to the best spot ever, first thing in the morning, and be the first person to pull the biggest, feistiest version of what you are after out of the water.  Since I was young, there has always been this childlike excitement the night(s) before.  What am I going to use for bait?  What if I reel like this or twitch the rod like this?  Will that summon the giant I am looking for?  What will it be like when I raise the Kraken on my $19.99 fishing rod and wrestle it into the boat?  As you can tell, over the years I have had a bunch of…uh let’s say…expectations that might be closely related to “fish stories.”  Nonetheless, reality tends to be a worthy teacher.

There seemed to be a thread running through every trip I took.  Success or failure seemed to be based on getting to the right spot with the right tools at the right time.  As you can appreciate, that is a high order.  My strategy, “this looks good, let’s stop here.”  Hours later, hope is waning, the stringer is empty, and discouragement and low blood sugar are combining to turn the mood of the day into one of defeat.  It was not lost on me that it was possible that I did not know what I was doing (surprise).  When I was young, my Dad seemed to have the same problem.  Great expectations!  On our way home, we usually picked up chicken. 

But it is important to note that not every outing ended in failure.  We did have some celebrations.  But if you are a math person, you get the impact of 2 out of 10.  If you are not a math person you get the impact of being successful 20% or less of the time.  If you are a businessperson, that statistic could define disaster!

Bass fishing, like business, provides value in the journey.  Success or failure are the result of combining wisdom, creativity, perseverance, and determination.  Learning can be challenging.  But sometimes it can be fun! 

The Guide

One of my most favorite places to go when I was just learning how to fish was Currituck Sound in North Carolina.  It was a relatively small body of water near the Outer Banks.  The sound was surrounded by farmland, long needle pine forests, and genuine folks that lived close to the land and water.  They took pride in being able to preserve this place as a hidden gem for bass anglers from all over the country.  Lights went out early in the little towns dotting the region.  My Dad and I would make our pilgrimage down there in the early spring.  Because of my excitement and anticipation, sleep was at a premium for me days prior to packing my bags and hopping in the car with my Dad for the journey.  In those days, there were not many places to stay.  But my father had found a small sportsman’s lodge that catered to anglers from out of town looking to create a Kodak moment fishing for bass on the sound.  The memories of those experiences are still vivid today. 

For years, our practice was to hire a local fisherman to take us out into the sound and guide us to the best places to fish.  One of those fish finders was a local named Clarence Beasley.  Clarence was a man of few words until he got to the third or fourth brewed beverage dragged from the cooler throughout the day.  I remember asking him once how he knew where to go.  I’ll never forget what he said, “son, the reason I know is because it took me 10 years to learn where not to go first.”  The wisdom of that comment was not lost on me even at a young age. 

Right after that answer he handed me an old fashion cane pole, a bamboo pole with about fifteen feet of monofilament line attached to the end.  At the end of the line was a hook with a live minnow fluttering and ready to get into the water.  He looked at me and said, “drop that minnow into that hole in the grass over there.”  To set the scene, the boat was in the middle of a patch of grass that grew right up to the surface.  The sound was full of grass beds, but this one was dense.  Occasionally, you would see an opening in the grass.  He pointed, and I dropped the minnow where he wanted it.  I sat there for a bit and had my mind on other things when suddenly, the end of that pole bent down all the way to the water.  Man!!!!  The Kraken had landed!  I yanked back on that pole and it did not move what was on the end.  My next step was to stand up so I could get even more leverage on this trophy fish.  It was chaos for a moment.  I finally got standing up.  I braced myself, tightened my grip, leaned forward ever so slightly to ready myself, and gave that pole the biggest yank I could muster. 

So here is the picture; we left the dock and motored about 15 minutes through canals, open water, and other grass beds to this non-descript spot, we had all this sophisticated fishing gear that my Dad and I had brought, we pull into a grass choked area, Clarence hands me a stick with a string attached and says “put that in that spot”, an opening that was approximately two feet wide in the grass, I do what he tells me to do and now I am in the fight of my young life. 

My first yank did not do anything.  It just bent the pole.  Clarence said, “do you feel like your going to lose him?”  I groaned and said, “I, I, don’t think so,” “Get him in the boat”, he said.  “I’m trying.”  My Dad is now smiling and trying to control his laughter at my obvious panic and struggle.  One more time I yank…this time it moves, and for the first time I see what has been stubbornly resisting my attempt to drag it into my world.  It was the biggest bass I had ever seen.  Now I am not going to act like most fisherman and hold up my hands outstretched beyond my shoulders or give you some estimate of its titanic size in pounds, but let’s just say it seemed to be winning our epic battle.  Clarence looks at me and says one more time, “you feel like your going to lose him?”  This time I was sure it was coming aboard at any moment.  “NO, I GOT HIM!!!”  …….SNAP!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 


 I have recalled that moment many times throughout my career for different reasons.  When new opportunity or ideas would come my way in business, I would remember how planning and thinking about what I would need to be successful on my journey was the first thing I did.   I would remember the importance of having the right bait and presenting it to the fish the right way as I would ponder my customers and their experiences.  I would remember Currituck Sound as I developed ideas for markets that were untapped or underserved.  I would think about how simple yet effective that cane pole was when I was planning a website or media campaign.   And I would remember that without Clarence and his guidance, my chances of success would have been small.

Those lessons and many others have influenced my accomplishments.  But as with any learning, it must have application.  So I wanted to convert a few of those lessons into some ideas that hopefully are a little more practical.  These are just some of the lessons inspired by those adventures. 

Planning – I have coached many leaders and owners about the critical importance of planning.  You do not have to look far today to see the chaos in the world.  It is truly unprecedented.  Few businesses had the foresight to anticipate what we are experiencing.  But businesses that are going to have a chance at thriving again all have something in common…they have a discipline around goal setting and planning.  In other words, they have a planning and goal setting process that is adaptable to the times and environment we are living in.  In their book The 4 Disciplines of Execution, Chris McChesney and Sean Covey lay out a goal setting structure that has powered large and small companies alike.  If you do not have a deliberate approach to setting goals, acting on them, achieving them, measuring them, and adding to them, start today!

Job to be Done – This is one of the most critical business concepts to understand.  What job is your customer “hiring” you to do?  What are you selling?  This question works for product and services companies.  Gasoline for your car is not just gas, it’s a weekend in the mountains or at the beach.  The now famous ¼” drill bit is not a drill bit but a ¼” hole.  That fertilizer for your yard isn’t for the grass, it’s for the “wow” you get from your neighbors and the pride you gain from having a beautiful yard.  Those shoes are not about comfort and practicality, they are about making you feel attractive and confident when you are in public.  If you don’t already know what “job” your product or service is doing, you run the risk of being overtaken by your competitors  Clayton Christensen, one of my favorite authors, wrote in Competing Against Luck, “Customers are often unable to articulate what they want; even when they do describe what they want, their actions tell a completely different story.”  Think about what job your product or service is doing.  If you figure it out, it will open new possibilities for your future! 

Uncontested Space – One might be tempted to say that there is really no space in markets today that is truly “new.”  We often think about how to “compete” and not how to “create.”  But there are some noteworthy recent examples.  The ride sharing explosion, e-bikes, plant based meat substitutes, the list goes on.  The book, Blue Ocean Strategy, was made popular based on the thesis that too many companies exhaust themselves competing in crowded spaces.  Finding your own Currituck Sound, gives you the chance to tap into its potential with your unique offering and be the first to gain a foothold.  Put some thought into where you can go! 

Customer Experience – It has been in recent years that experience design, user experience, digital experience, and customer experience have taken on new importance in the minds of companies.  I worked with a company for a brief time who told me that “we invest most of our available capital in improving the experience our customers have with us.”  That company is thriving today!    In the book, Connected Strategy, the authors talk about “connected relationships.”  Drawing closer to your customer whether that is using people, technology, or a combination of both can only benefit your company.   

Strategy – This is one of my passions and the focus of much of my work.  A book written many years ago by Alan Weiss and Michel Robert, The Innovation Formula, describes one of the most difficult aspects of strategy…how to ask the right questions instead of making a statement.  Strategy is based on a framework of questions and categorized into outcome bundles.  The guiding light of good strategic focus are the questions that precede its development.  Questions like, where are you? What do you do and why does it matter? Where are you going and how will you get there? When will you arrive?  If you don’t have a strategy, start with these four basic questions.  If you can answer them, the journey has begun!!

Until Next Time

The end of my fishing adventure may seem predictable.  I had hooked the largest fish of my young life.  Our guide was encouraging me (and smiling) while asking me if I had a tight grip on that pole.  I had just seen the giant come up to the surface.  But it wasn’t meant to be.  As the fish doubled its efforts to stay out of the boat, the line snapped sending me falling backward and causing me to fall fannie first into the minnow bucket that was subsequently stuck to me.  You don’t need a lot of imagination to visualize the roaring laughter coming from both Clarence and my Dad.  I remember sitting there for a minute and thinking about how embarrassed I was.  Embarrassment turned quickly to giggling, then to laughter and then all of us were cackling in unison.  After we collected ourselves, Clarence said “give me that pole, he’s still down there.”  “Get out of that bucket and let’s try again.”  We did, and though we did not catch the Kraken, the rest of the day proved to be wonderfully successful!

As I said earlier, our guide was not the perfect communicator, he didn’t excel at casting a vision or setting expectations.  However, he knew where the fish were, and what they would eat.  His wisdom came from failure.  I have never forgotten that lesson.  I am reminded regularly, business is like fishing; the right place, with the right offer, and the right presentation, and you will land your trophy!  Like Clarence, I keep learning, keep growing, and most importantly, keep trying.   

Take a moment to reflect on your own story.  I’m willing to bet that you have moments that can translate into a light for your path.  Remember them, use them, and make the most of them.  You just might gain a new perspective on an old situation that can change the course of your business.