Give a man a fish… What does this mean in business?


Here is a tweet I posted today of a phrase I read awhile ago which would be the business version of “Give a man fish…” proverb – I hope you do know the proverb.

Which to me as a business person makes total sense – I went ahead and tweeted this

This tweet raised quite an interesting debate with a couple of tweeps, here are some of the tweets

It then hit me that maybe we get this phrase/proverb wrong most of the times. So I am going to try and explain it in a business sense (I am all about business, you probably know that already)

Giving a man fish – would mean giving someone a solution/product/service
Teaching them how to fish – would mean teaching them how to do what you are providing them

In business you NEVER teach your customers how to do what you do. Unless of course you are a skills teacher, language teacher or any sort of teacher for that sake.

Coke Cola company will always provide you with coke soda (read fish) BUT will never teach you how to make coke soda. – I am sure if @BoazShani learnt how to make coke soda he would probably set up a plant in his backyard. He is the biggest coke lover I have ever met. You don’t believe me, check this out! 

Javas or any cafe, or even Chicken Tonight will not share their recipe for the food or give you free access to the kitchen to learn how the chef prepares the food. – that’s the heart of their business!

On a side note: Customers are never interested in how to prepare the food or the secret ingredient -No. They are there for the ‘fish’ that you provide them – Stick to that. 

Well, if you are to stick to the Bible where the proverb was originally used then yes, it probably was used in the context of giving AID – But the Bible was never about business. In business, you catch a man a fish and sell it. Teach a man how to fish and you will have ruined a great business opportunity.

In social enterprises may claim to “teach a man how to fish”, well here is a definition of a social enterprise.

social enterprise is an organization that applies commercial strategies to maximize improvements in human and environmental well-being, rather than maximising profits for external shareholders.

There are two types of social enterprises, for-profit and non-profit.

A non-profit social enterprise may well be teaching a man how fish BUT a for-profit social enterprise does not teach a man how to fish, rather they teach you how to utilize the fish they got for you, how to make it last longer, what and how you can benefit from it and all the other good stuff about the fish but they will NEVER teach you how to actually fish. Teaching you how to actually fish would be getting themselves out of service and this is something no entity will ever do. It is as simple as that – Self Preservation

Just because I said in business you do not teach a man how to fish, it does not mean you lock yourself up in your box with your business ‘secrets’. Collaborations and helping out other ‘fishermen’ is VERY good for you and your business. That is a story for another day.

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What are your thoughts?!

thoughts so far!

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