Is It a Bad Idea to “Teach a Man to Fish”?

It’s a business proverb you’ve probably heard thousand times:

“Give a man to fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you’ve fed him for a lifetime.” 

But the reality is that almost no one wants to learn to fish!

That has always been the case, but it’s increasingly true in this day and age that people want simple, turnkey solutions. We want our “fish” handed to us (preferably scaled, boned, and cooked). In fact, a lot of people scoff at the idea of doing their own work.

This isn’t a bad thing. In the business world, there’s room for both the worm-packed tackle box and the icebox filled with pre-caught fish. No matter what field you’re in, regardless of whether you specialize in delivering training, services or products, you can find a cozy be successful.

Feed Me Now!

What can we take away from thinking about this old proverb in a new way?

1) The best way to get what you want in business and in life is to help others get what they want. If your customers want smoked salmon, don’t try to sell them fish bait.

If they just want a fish for dinner, don’t try to force them learn the sport, no matter how much sense it makes or how much they’re likely to benefit in the long run. You can make the training available, but don’t press the issue.

2)  People like easy. Do everything in your power to make it easy for customers to buy from you. Remove any obstacle that may keep people from doing business with you. Make your product or training simple to use.

By the way, Karl Marx had a different take on this saying: “Sell a man a fish, he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish, you ruin a wonderful business opportunity.” There’s opportunity in both selling and training; give your customers what they want and you can make money on both.

3) Most people like to think as little as possible, too. Eliminate anything confusing or hard to grasp from your marketing, sales scripts, in-store signage, etc.

Ever had to explain how much  your price is with a 30% discount?

4) Make gratification as close to instant as you can without sacrificing quality.

5) Cures carry more urgency than prevention. Consider whether what you offer is appealing to a pain that your prospects already suffer from or if you’re trying

An ounce of prevention may be worth more than a pound of cure, but the market price on the cure is substantially higher. Even at the higher price, it’s easier to sell.

6) Question everything! Not every proverb is true or universally applicable. Not every piece of advice is accurate.

Listen to voices you trust, but never stop thinking for yourself. It’s not a crime to question the experts. On the contrary, asking tough questions and challenging assumptions will often lead to breakthrough ideas and new solutions.