Give The Man A Fish

I’m sure you’re familiar with the saying:

Give someone a fish and you feed them for a day. Teach them how to fish and you feed them for a lifetime.

There’s a lot to like in this idea, but it’s not always appropriate.

Sometimes you need to give them a fish first.

In a stable environment, when you have more time to teach people how to fish, this works. It takes more effort, but you invest in their education knowing it will repay itself many times over in the long term (which, of course, is the point of the saying).

But in an uncertain, volatile, and fast-changing environment, you might not have this luxury. When the external environment is changing rapidly, your team members are too stressed and anxious to learn fishing, and you’re all doing everything you can just to survive. In a crisis, shelve the fishing lessons and give them a fish now. It satisfies their hunger, solves an immediate problem, and tides them over until they are ready to learn fishing.

That isn’t an ideal long-term solution, but it might be the best solution in a crisis. It only becomes a problem if you do this forever, lurching from one crisis to the next, always handing out fish because you have never taught them to fish.

We need new skills for the future.

A World Economic Forum survey last year said more than half of working adults worldwide worry they will lose their job in the next 12 months due to the pandemic. That’s a global average, but the number for Australia is similar. Yes, that’s more than 6 million people.

That survey also said most Australians think their current employer will help them learn the skills they need for the future. And if you don’t provide that kind of support, employees are increasingly looking to learn the skills themselves – so they can leave and work for a better employer.

You need to provide three kinds of skills …

When you teach them how to fish, they want three kinds of learning: deeper, wider, and further:

  1. First, they need deeper learning, which are the skills unique to a job, profession, industry, or discipline. You want a cardiologist to know about heart surgery, an auto mechanic to know about cars, a cellist in an orchestra to know how to play the cello, an Instagram marketing consultant to know about Instagram marketing, and so on. If you don’t have those skills, you can’t do that job.
  2. We also all need wider learning, for the transferable skills that span different disciplines. Some people refer to these as “soft skills”, usually to suggest these are more about people than technology. But that’s the wrong distinction, because they include technology-related skills that aren’t specific to a discipline (for example, numeracy, new media literacy, and the ability to work with AI).
  3. Finally, encourage them to see further into the future, so they keep an open mind and explore ideas that are just possibilities, potential, and even wild speculation.

If you’re a leader, manager, or HR professional, ask yourself these three questions for each person in your team:

  1. Right now, do they need a fish or to learn fishing?
  2. Do they have enough wide skills for the future?
  3. How could we encourage them to explore “further” skills?


What Next?

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