Lessons From Fishing
By Chuck Cusumano and Jillian Broaddus
For several years now, I have been unplugging and disconnecting from the world in the wilderness of Canada for about a week at the end of each summer. I venture up north with my adult son and 40+ other men, all combinations of dads, brothers, sons, and grandsons. It is an all-guys' week in the wilderness catching fish... Lots of fish. Almost all the fish we catch we release back into the lakes of Canada. We catch enough fish each day to feed ourselves for dinner; but if not, then peanut butter and jelly it is – although with this bunch of experienced fishermen, I do not recall this alternative ever occurring.
No phones, no internet, and no world to interrupt the peace, beauty, and wildness of northern Canada! I recommend everyone take a "break from reality and technology" vacation each year! On our most recent trip, with time, open water for as far as I could see, and so many wise business leaders fishing with me, 5 simple principles in life and in fishing kept jumping out at me (pun intended!). Here is what I would like to pass along for those of you that do not fish or haven’t been fishing for 60+ hours in a week!
1. Nothing happens if you do not have a hook in the water.
Or as a good friend of mine, JVD, said on the trip, “Nothing happens if you sit at home; you have to get up, get out there, and you have to mix it up in the world.” My friend knows a little something about making things happen – so I recommend just casting it out there and seeing. Many times, we spend too long thinking and planning what we are going to do, but we do not act fast enough – or at all. Too many fishermen spend more time tying complicated knots, choosing just the right shade of (pick your color) lure, or adjusting some sort of rigging on their pole so that everything will be perfectly positioned to attract the fish. But if you want to make something happen in the world, then you must have a bias for action! The more you cast, the better your odds are at hitting the fish right on top of the head! And when that happens, it doesn’t really matter what color your bait is or if you have any bait at all! The fish just strikes out of instinct. If you are waiting for the stars to align before you make your move - someone will pass you up and start fishing in your secret spot! So always have a hook in the water if you want to catch something. Or to quote General George S. Patton, “A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.”
2. There is no reverse. You just need to move forward.
That same friend, JVD, invited us to fish on his SPECIAL boat. Normally, his boat is the best boat on the water, with all the gadgets and technology to assist in locating big fish; however, when he let me drive the boat I apparently broke it – only REVERSE was working! Rather than go backwards all day long, JVD rigged up a temporary fix until he could get it back to the U.S. I asked him, "How can you fish all day with your boat not working correctly?” and I loved his reply: “It is working fine – so what if I have no reverse; who needs reverse? You just need to keep moving forward!” – an adage so true in life and in business. You can not go backwards. The past is the past; learn from it and move forward! Dwelling on what could have been or what should have been does nothing except steal precious time from the present. Move forward and if you fail, then fail forward! Whatever you do, do not turn around and spend time in the past trying to fix the present. “Don’t look back; you are not going that way.” - Unknown
3. When attempting to catch big fish, the net-man is the most important person on the boat.
At the end of the fishing day, we all gather in a central cabin and talk about what worked, what didn’t, and who caught the biggest and the most fish. The one thing that becomes abundantly clear to anyone paying attention is that the biggest catches and the biggest fish to get away had almost everything to do with the net-man. Sure, the fisherman was the one that hooked the fish in the first place; but until you get that fish into the boat, it is nothing but a hope, a dream, and a story that no one will believe if you do not get it into the boat, get a picture, and take a measurement. How does that happen? It is up to your net-man! (The net-man is any guy in the boat that does not have a fish on his line when you say “fish on my line.”) The net-man throws down his pole and grabs the net to assist you when you work the fish close to the boat. The big ones – the trophy fish – don’t usually just come swimming into the net or the boat easily. The big ones know when they have been hooked and they will jump out of the water, swim under the boat, and cross your line with anything else that will help them get off that hook. (And the truly trophy fish are usually bigger than the net itself!) So, after out -thinking and out-working your fish, you work it alongside the boat for that one moment when it is up to your net-man to scoop up, without knocking the fish off the hook, and lift that fish into the boat. So many giant world-record-biggest-fish-ever stories have ended at that great fishing moment… when the net-man hit your fish and knocked it off the line! It is a difficult job to be sure. The adrenaline is pumping on the boat. Everyone in earshot is looking to see how big this one is, and in a split second, the net-man must put his rod down and navigate to where the guy hollering is while not stepping on anything that could trip him, all the while trying to determine if he really has “the big one” and if it will really fit in the net. One slip-up and the net-man blows the whole thing! If he does his job perfectly, he gets little to no credit and is likely the one behind the camera. But if he messes it up, he never lives it down! There is nothing but neutral or downside for the guy who becomes the net-man. And let us not forget that the only difference between being the net-man or THE MAN that caught the big fish, is usually a few feet of difference in the spot you cast to or a few seconds difference in when the fish swam by. There is no upside being the net-man. Unless, you have a great leader and a great friend – someone who knows what you did for them, is willing to share the credit, and is able to give you your due respect for the contribution you made. In life, it is important to be THAT friend and THAT leader! Be willing to acknowledge the efforts of all the people around you and your chances of catching the big client, the big deal, or the big fish are greatly increased because of the team you have around you. Why do some concepts go viral and others falter? Why did you happen to join the right company at the right time, just as the market was expanding? So much of success happens to be about being around when something happened. Today, you may be the successful one and your company may be on top. But, rest assured, it is almost never because of your efforts alone. Be the person who acknowledges the efforts of all that helped in your success or be a great net-man for someone and see what happens when you are the one with the "fish on the line." People want to fish with people like that and people want to work with people like that!
4. It is no fun fishing if you have the wrong people in the boat.
Most of us fishing on this Canadian trip fish in the smaller aluminum boats that are provided by the camp. They are designed to hold 2 people nicely, but can accommodate 3, even for a long day of fishing. When I say long day, I mean 12-13 hours in that small boat. If someone talks too much, or does not talk at all, or ate the wrong food, it can make for a painful day on the water. If the other person is not mindful of you and the situation, then someone could easily fall overboard, or the boat could run aground on a rock – just to mention a few situations. (We did have a team run into a somewhat submerged rock and sink their boat this past time.) So, communication and teamwork in such close quarters is paramount. Not to mention that with no one within miles of your location and no phones or radios to help you, if you do something stupid or do not work together, it can go really bad, really fast! Having the right people in the boat is more important than almost anything else (except gasoline, a lifejacket, a paddle, and an anchor). The same is true for life and business. If you have the wrong people in the boat, it can become a hostile work environment very quickly. The good people will leave faster than the wrong people, leading to the culture being destroyed, and bad things that can happen very quickly. The same thing goes for a marriage, a relationship, a partnership, or a friendship. The learning here: be slow to say yes when asked if someone can join your boat to go fishing for a day. There really is no easy way out once you have left shore with that person! Not to mention they will most likely end up being your net-man as well! Vet people and relationships beforehand.
5. Timing and numbers really do matter.
Fishing has a lot to do with correct timing. Start fishing at noon when the fish are not feeding as much or are less active and it becomes a long and potentially boring activity. Knowing when the fish are most likely to be hungry or active, and even the wrong bait, lure, tackle, or technique will catch some fish. A bare hook in the right spot at the right time catches fish! Additionally, the timing of when you "set the hook" is crucial. Some fish will nibble and nibble at the bait – testing it and toying with it. If you are too quick to jump on the first nibble or try to set the hook too hard, you come up with nothing except a jolt of adrenaline for your poor timing. On the other hand, with some species of fish, you have to set the hook at the first feeling of a strike and keep that tension all the way into the net, less you lose the fish because you were too slow or too soft. Knowing what you are fishing for and what the best technique for setting the hook is makes fishing hard and complicated. One secret is to increase your odds by increasing the numbers: the number of hooks you have in the water, the number of hooks on the lure you are using, or the number of fish in the area you are fishing at. Where we were fishing in northern Canada, there are lots of fish! It is one of the reasons we fish there. It is truly hard not to catch something! In fact, someone said they liked this trip because it was a catching trip, not a fishing trip. The same is true in life: if you are looking for a job, look where the most jobs are being offered or go where the least number of applicants are. It is all about increasing your odds. Need to sell something? Ask more often, to more people, and you will get more sales without having to change anything about your product or your price. Why do we still get those crazy emails telling us to hand over our banking information so some foreign sultan can transfer their money to us since they don’t have a U.S. bank account? Because if they send out enough of those, there are still people that hand over their information! You must do your research to know what the proper timing is in whatever you are pursuing; however, if you will show up more, do more, help people more, and serve more, then you can overcome a timing issue by increasing your numbers! That has been my secret in life and in fishing – simply out-number everyone else with more. Then, occasionally, when your timing is spot on, you get it all because you are working it from both sides.
“Fishing is not an escape from life, but often a deeper immersion into it.” – Harry Middleton
If you want to learn more about fishing, contact a good fishing guide; but if you want to know how to lead yourself or your company better, then reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org . Happy catching!