What’s an Old Fish Know About Focus?

Ben Hunt at Epsilon Theory leads off his note, “This is Water,” with the classic David Foster Wallace parable,


There are these two young fish winning along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “what the hell is water?”


Hunt uses the water analogy to explain the Zeitgeist or the social reality we all live in. Our families, our jobs, the news we watch, the news other people watch that makes us scratch our heads when we hear about some outlandish opinion at a party – it’s all part of the world we are living in. It’s also the world our clients are living in. Recognizing how much we don’t know we don’t know about it intimidating.


Our job, as professionals, is like the old fish in the Wallace parable. We know (or at least we are supposed to know) that we’re in the water and we can’t, won’t, and most definitely do not know it all. We’re not here to burst anyone’s metaphorical bubble and give away all of the information (this isn’t a Matrix red pill scenario), but we are here to offer the guidance on how to survive to become an old fish. There’s a lot of noise out there. We’re here to help our clients find the signal.


As the famous Carl Richard’s “Focus” sketch shows, there are the things that matter, and there are the things we can control. Our focus needs to be on the tiny overlap between the two, where we find the things that matter that we can control. Presidents, candidates, special counselors – these are things that might matter, but we can’t control (present Illuminati company excluded). What matters to our future, why it’s important to us, how we envision getting there – this is where our focus belongs. This is where we can step in and create actual value for people.


We’re all in the water. If we want to be old fish, we have to understand the context we’re in, figure out what matters, and focus on what we can control. There will always be work for those that can help others to do just that.

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