• Linda Paralez

Four Types of Fishermen

Updated: Apr 18

L. Paralez, President Demarche Consulting Group

I’m often struck by how consistent common foundational themes for improvement  have stayed true through organizational adoption of TQM (total quality management), Six Sigma, BPM (business process management), and now Lean. There’s the feeling of “everything old is new again” each time I help an organization address its “transformation initiative.”  These thoughts were on my mind when recently I read a story,  shared by our LinkedIn group narrator (discussion group is called the W. Edwards Deming Institute Official Group) about four types of fishermen in the world.

Now I have to say that participating in several of these discussion groups  has proved to be a wealth of insight, reminders, and source of reflection for me. This story, shared by Daniel Lang (used with permission), elicited several comments from group participants recalling Deming telling versions of the four types of fishermen related to the role of “willing workers,” the cost of poor management in organizations (lack of profound knowledge), and the vigorous practice of Deming’s Point 13 (see side bar). Here’s the story, as retold by Daniel Lang:

“There are four types of fishermen in the world. The first type will teach a person to fish, to impart a skill to another. He will teach others without cost. They are not into much self-promotion. They are not so full of themselves that they cannot recognize the skill and abilities others may have. All that is needed for them to teach, is an opportunity for them to speak or a simple question and they will be more than glad to share their skill with others. Though they have great learning, they are able to learn from others. They realize that there are enough fish in the ocean, and even if they spent their entire life teaching others to fish, that the fish would not be depleted. These are individuals called willing workers and cooperative, positive managers of fishing, of course.

There is a second type of fisherman who will not teach the entire skill of fishing. He will only give parts. It is only given in parts for one of two reasons. The first reason is he only knows a part. The second reason is he does not really want others to learn how to fish. For if they do not know how to fish, he can catch all the fish and sell them back to those who are not able to fish at exorbitant prices. He covets all the fish in all the waters. These are called the academia and consultants of fishing, of course.

There is a third type of fisherman in the world. These left to their own devices would deplete all the fish of the world. They have! Their boats have names like Enron, Banking Industry, Real Estate Collapse, Government, Big Corporations and Outrageous CEO Compensation to name a few.

There is a fourth type of fisherman in the world. They are highly skilled by education, experience, and  observation. These are humble and not self-promoting. They make but a stipend of what they are worth. They see that the skill that they have developed is not so much their achievement, as the achievement of many. These types of fishermen are fewer than few. [Dr. Deming was this type of fisherman.] ​  Transformation occurs when the first and fourth type of fisherman unite. The second and the third type are useless for transformation and must change their ways.”

And my final thought – while writing yet another transformation initiative proposal – everything old is new again.

📷Deming's Fourteen Points for Management:

  1. Create constancy of purpose for improvement of product and services

  2. Adopt the new philosophy

  3. Cease dependence on mass inspection

  4. End the practice of awarding business on price tag alone

  5. Constantly and forever improve the systems of production and services

  6. Institute modern methods of training on the job

  7. Institute modern methods of supervision and leadership

  8. Drive out fear

  9. Break down barriers between departments

  10. Eliminate numerical goals for the work force

  11. Eliminate work standards and numerical quotas

  12. Remove barriers to pride of workmanship

  13. Institute a vigorous program of education and training for everyone

  14. Create a structure in top management that will push every day on the above 13 points.


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