Powerful story telling challenge: Harvard MBA and the fisherman

Powerful story telling challenge: Harvard MBA and the fisherman

By Rajesh Setty on Tue 09 Aug 2005, 9:47 PM – 4 Comments

Yesterday I posted about the power of story telling and how it can

mislead us. Here is a quick challenge. Here is the story (I am

confident that you would have read this story)

An American tourist meets a Mexican fisherman resting on the shore. He asks him how long he goes to fish everyday”Not very long,” answered the Mexican.

“But then, why didn’t you stay out longer and catch more?” asked the American.

The Mexican fisherman explained that his approach is to only catch how much ever he and his family needs on that day.

The American asked, “But what do you do with the rest of your time?”


sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, and take a siesta

with my wife. In the evenings, I go into the village to see my friends,

have a few drinks, play the guitar, and sing a few songs…I have a

full life.”

The American interrupted, “I have an MBA from

Harvard and I can help you! You should start by fishing longer every

day. You can then sell the extra fish you catch. With the extra

revenue, you can buy a bigger boat. With the extra money the larger

boat will bring, you can buy a second one and a third one and so on

until you have an entire fleet of trawlers. Instead of selling your

fish to a middle man, you can negotiate directly with the processing

plants and maybe even open your own plant. You can then leave this

little village and move to Mexico City, Los Angeles, or even New York

City. From there you can direct your huge enterprise.”

“How long would that take?” asked the Mexican.

“Ten, perhaps twelve years,” replied the American.

“And after that?”


That’s when it gets really interesting,” answered the American,

laughing. “When your business gets really big, you can start selling

stocks and make millions!”

“Millions? Really? And after that?”


that, you’ll be able to retire, live in a tiny village near the coast,

sleep late, play with your children, catch a few fish, take a siesta

with your wife, and spend your evenings having a few drinks and enjoy

your friends.”

Possible conclusions:

a) MBA is useless

b) Enjoy life right now

c) Don’t go on a wild goose chase

d) Goals are absurd

e) many more..


The story has a serious flaw. If you think through this for a few

minutes you will identify the flaw. The first ten (US residents only)

people that will send me an email [ rs “at” lifebeyondcode “dot” com]

with the flaw will get a discount coupon [50% off] for my upcoming book

Beyond Code” (due to be

released early October 2005). My only request is that if you like the

book, post a review on Amazon.com or blog about it

I have already posted the answer to this..

PS: If

someone posts the solution in the comments, I won’t consider any emails

that come in after the comment was posted. Sorry.

Hint: I am

receiving a lot of emails supporting one of the conclusions. Remember,

the temptation is to go with the flow in the story and accept one or

more of the conclusions. If you discover the flaw, you may question the

conclusion. Hope this is helpful.


Aug 8 – 2:13 pm Update:

I have so many email responses but only one entry that identified

the flaw so far. Congrats to John Brothers at Atlanta, GA

Sep 7 – 6:37 pm

Update: I am still getting emails with solutions. Thanks for the

overwhelming response but I have already posted the solution here


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4 Comments so far, Add Yours

Life Beyond Code  on July 8th, 2007

Reverse Offshoring and “The Tortoise and the Hare” story

Yes, both of the above have one thing in common – drawing conclusions based on flawed data sets.WSJ and …

Anonymous  on July 11th, 2007

I agree that the moral of this story isn’t so relevant for current times of diminishing geographic barriers … Life is about looking beyond your comfort zones and achieving seemingly difficult goals … if everyone has fisherman-like attitude, there would no growth ….

Anonymous  on July 24th, 2007

I appreciate your concern for the wellbeing of others while reading this story. However, I am concerned for you now after hearing your solution to the ‘challenge’ . If I challenge you to look for a flaw in a cloud, I imagine you could find it, but that’s not what clouds are made for.

Anonymous  on July 25th, 2007

Thank you so much for your concern :)



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