Powerful story telling challenge: Harvard MBA and the fisherman

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?”

“I 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?”

“After 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