Learning the River: How a Good Guide Helps Companies Catch More Fish

Rick fishing with a guideI love to fly fish. I’ve been fly fishing for about 35 years, and whenever I fish a new river, I use a guide. Every river is different; the fish behave differently and you can spend many frustrating hours trying to figure out where the fish are and what they are taking.

When you fly fish, you learn to read the water, observe the insect hatches (which is what the fish are usually eating), and develop favorite rod, reel and line combinations, all of which are part of the sport and the enjoyment of being on the river. Even so, when I fish a river for the first time, using a guide allows me to learn the river much faster, catch more fish and enjoy the experience even more.

Last month I was fishing the Kenai River in Alaska with a business associate who grew up in Oregon. We used guides and had great fishing, catching trout in the 24” range, which are big trout! If we’d tried to fish the river based on our own experience, we probably wouldn’t have caught anything.

You see, several factors make the Kenai unique. It flows very fast, almost twice as fast as most rivers, and because it’s glacially fed, the silt-laden water is white. Even though there are extensive bug hatches, the fish don’t rely on the bugs at all. The river has huge salmon runs – millions of fish laying eggs that bounce down the river because of the strong current, providing a buffet for trout.

The salmon die after spawning and decompose, sending little chunks of flesh down the river, which the trout also feast on. Using egg patterns, or what are know as flesh flies, is the secret to success on the Kenai. Knowing that, a fisherman can catch many big fish in a day, but if we had applied what we knew from other rivers, we wouldn’t have caught a thing in this one-of-a-kind river.

When I fish with guides, I always learn something new, even after fishing for all these years. On a recent trip to a small stream, I learned a whole new approach to fly fishing referred to as European Nymphing. It was a deadly technique and we had extraordinary fishing. I can now apply that knowledge to other rivers I fish, but without a guide I never would have learned the technique.

Business is much the same way. Many companies struggle to improve when they try to read the water by themselves. They might buy a few books, or watch other companies to see how they do it, but investing in a guide, at least in the beginning, accelerates success, and also profit and growth.

In a very successful supply chain strategy project earlier this year, we reduced inventory by 75% and saved about $22 million for the company. I asked the supply chain manager what he thought the biggest change, or “Keystone Habit” was that contributed to the dramatic improvements. He said, “partnerships, both internal and external.” He said he would’ve never considered developing partnerships without my assistance; I was his guide in the process.

He’d taken a number of Lean and business leadership classes at the local university, and while what he learned was useful, it didn’t cover supplier partnerships or internal (employee, inter-department) partnerships. He said that partnerships were the magic elixir that yielded rapid, extraordinary results.

Companies often try to go it alone or observe other companies through industry groups or consortiums, but the learning curve is long, and innovative, disruptive ideas remain invisible to the outsider. Despite talent and experience, efforts can drag on for many years, and senior management gets tired of waiting for results and shifts resources to other initiatives. By carefully selecting a good guide, those same companies can accelerate profit and growth much faster, dramatically improving the return on time (ROT) invested in “learning the river.”

When you’re embarking on change initiatives, whether they be Lean, supply chain management, profit improvement, capacity improvement or cash flow improvement, hire a guide. You’ll catch more fish, gain valuable insight, and enjoy the experience a lot more.

© 2015 – Rick Pay – All Rights Reserved

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