The subtitle of this post could be the original classic — “How I spent my summer vacation”. If you have a prepared mind — or an obsessive mind — you can see things in the mundane that no one else in their right mind will see. Being obsessed with a mind prepared to find suburban innovation and focused on developing the South Shore Innovation community, it was not hard for me to see psychedelic visions on my vacation in nature. No drugs needed, just add water to nature and thoughts.
While sitting in a boat, fishing rod in hand, I was struck with the parallelism between trying to figure out where the fish were hiding and trying to find the people innovating and creating startups in the suburbs. All those fish were clearly entrepreneurs swimming around between shallow and dark waters, muddy bottoms and patches of weeds. Above the surface, I was the investor trying to find and catch the Big Ones. When I caught little Sunfish, I wanted to throw them back to flourish and grow. When I caught the big 2 foot long Northern Pikes, I wanted to keep them and eat them. For practical purposes, I had to throw all back but one — there are only so many fish you can eat at one time.
What did this metaphor mean? Was fishing for entrepreneurs and innovation a good thing or a bad thing? Was a big fish synonymous with a big ideas or success? I decided that eating a big fish was a good thing, but even eating a small fish was good, as long as the time and circumstances were right.
The image of the lake containing thousands of lurking fish was a cool thought. When I pulled them out on my line, it was a great feeling. At other times, sitting in the sun and moving from spot to spot, and trying various techniques to find them, brought nothing to my line. It was a mystery and a challenge to find the fish and catch them.
The game of finding innovators on the South Shore was no different. Some weeks, I meet many and other weeks I meet no one. The keys is grouping them together and teaching them how to live, work and collaborate together like a school of fish. The little fish in a school can stave off the larger predators and survive. Mutual cooperation can be valuable to survival.
In the mornings and evenings, I was reading short stories of survival at sea. These were chapters or excerpts of books dealing with shipwrecks and how the sailors struggled with the forces of nature, often times fighting to survive after their ship went under. Ah ha! That stuff about the fish being the entrepreneurs? That must be all wrong! Starting a company was like a ship at sea. In order to survive, the entrepreneur had to be knowledgeable and strong enough to endure long, hard struggles. For every startup, there are forces of nature at play. On a journey, each port is a respite and a life-saver — a time to recuperate and gain strength, just like an infusion of money from customers or investors.
“This metaphor of a ship at sea is good,: I said, patting myself on the back. “It includes customers, too.” But wait! Sailors need food, not just money. Where do they get food? <French accent>But of course! They eat fish.</French accent>
So, basically, sailors are fisherman, too. Hmm…
It’s tempting to try to find metaphors for what we are doing. As thinkers, entrepreneurs often like to align with metaphors and comparisons. It can be difficult to find a perfect match. That’s okay. There is danger in trying to force fit the journey into a metaphor or path that is not a perfect fit; the danger is in using tools to make decisions where not all conclusions apply to the situation at hand:
“But the fish story says that big fish are better than small fish!” Not always.
“But the ship story says that there will be money in port!” Yeah, right. Every port is at the end of a rainbow.
The key is to look at the symbolism in the world around us and take lessons from it. Work hard. Learn. Work together. Prepare for a long journey. Don’t give in to the forces of nature.
Entrepreneurs and innovators are everywhere, in the big fish and the little fish, in big ships and dinghys, in Nooks and Kindles. They all have different needs, but they all need basic life support. These thoughts provide a certain amount of structure around the very unstructured community of entrepreneurs.
The takeaway lesson, or what I learned on my summer vacation, is to keep fishing, sailing and working through the forces of nature while we continue to compile the community of suburban innovators called South Shore Innovation.