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If you really want to help, just give them the fish.

Creative Commons License photo credit: orangeacid

Yes, I know that is going to rile some folks up, but you probably need to be riled up anyhow.

What exactly do I mean by “give them the fish”? Let me back up a little.

You’ve undoubtedly heard the saying: “Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime.”

I used to agree. It used to seem that teaching someone to fish was sufficient, but human nature is a powerful teacher.

Not anymore.

First, a couple of examples from the Rotary world:

  • Do you think that Rotary should just airdrop polio vaccine (and instructions) over Africa and let those folks take care of vaccinating themselves?
  • What about the hand-operated wells that Rotarians regularly donate and install in third world communities? I’m talking about the wells that eliminate a mother’s 6 mile daily walk for water. Before you think “So what?”, think about how long it takes a mother to walk 6 miles, then walk 6 miles back carrying 5 gallons of probably not-so-clean water. If you’re taking care of a couple of infants, consider how that impacts your child-rearing and your ability to make a living. Now suddenly you’re taking clean water out of a well right in your village. Impactful.

But…I didn’t start this conversation to talk about Rotary. Their polio and water efforts just make the point easy to illustrate.

Personal Inertia

All of this is really building up to some comments about personal inertia.

Inertia is a big obstacle for an 80,000 lb 18 wheel truck or a jumbo jet, but a person’s personal inertia makes their inertia pale in comparison.

Powered by daily routines and daily “crises”, as I referred to yesterday when quoting Mr. Rohn, it’s bigger than most people realize.

While everybody can do what so and so does to be successful, reach a goal, get out of a mess, change some aspect of their lives, or market their product; but not everybody will.

Why Personal Inertia happens

A lot of the reason for this is that people just aren’t used to taking NEW actions. Sure, they get up for work in the morning (even if they work for themselves) and they go about their business, but they struggle to make new things happen.

Rather than making things happen, they often watch things happen (or worse, wonder what happened).

That’s why you have to give them the fish. Change is tough. Sometimes scary. Sometimes, just different enough that your routine just doesn’t seem to allow for them.

And that’s where the fish comes in.

Sometimes you have to give them the fish to prime the pump. To make the impression necessary to show that the learning is worthwhile.

What IS The Fish?

The fish is what you do for others. Maybe a service, maybe something you teach or something you create for them if they can’t or won’t do it themselves.

I know you can teach them to fish (whatever your fish is), but they have to WANT to learn to fish or your time will be wasted.


More than likely, whatever you do is the fish your client needs (or is related to it).

Again, giving them the fish primes the pump and helps make that action part of their routine.

Until it’s routine, it’s unlikely to happen.

Before you give them the fish, before they “get it”, they might not have the vision you have.

The fish might be necessary to make the impression (produce the results?) necessary to show that learning to fish is worthwhile in the first place.

Give, then teach

Once the lesson, the results, the vision/buy in are there, learning to fish seems like a good idea.

Their idea. Your gift made it so.

When eyes light up, budgets appear and/or time opens up, it’s time to teach.