Success and Intention

I love to fish. While I enjoy gear fishing for spring Chinook and winter steelhead, fly-fishing is my fist love. I pursue trout and steelhead in streams, rivers and lakes all around the northwest, and success in these waters is often a matter of putting the fly in precisely the right spot to catch the fish.

Rick fishingRecently I had the opportunity to fish for rainbow trout for three days on the Grande Ronde River in northeastern Oregon. The Grande Ronde, a tributary of the Snake River, flows through a deep, heavily forested canyon. The gradient of the river is steeper than most in Oregon, and the river’s fast flow requires casting so precisely that you need to put your fly within inches of a rock or cliff. If you put the fly even a few inches too far away, you won’t catch any fish.


To be successful in fly-fishing, just as in business, you need to be very intentional. First, you need a clear vision of exactly where to place your fly to catch fish, and sometimes that requires help. On our trip, since none of us had ever fished the Grande Ronde, we used experienced guides who told us where we needed to put the fly to catch the big one. If we missed the spot, we didn’t get a strike.

In business, you also need a clear vision of where you want to go; a vision that defines the future state and context for success. This perspective is often short to mid-term, anywhere from 18 – 36 months out. While fishing, we need to know what we’re fishing for and be familiar with the particular environment where we’re fishing. It would be the equivalent of knowing our market and customers in business.

Keeping Your Eye on the Target

Second, we need to be able to execute the cast, which takes experience and practice. Fly-fishing takes time to master, and as in other sports like golf as well as in business (think continuous improvement), you’re constantly trying to improve. Often one might consult a teacher, or in business a mentor, board of advisors or consultant, in order to learn the proper technique. But even more important is looking at where you want the cast to land, and being very deliberate.

If you look at the spot you want to cast to, you’ll hit it more often than not. If there is a bush or a tree on the bank and you look at the bush or tree, guess what? You’ll lose a lot of flies. In business, it’s important to identify the target is and to keep your eye on it. Many companies just wander along hoping for the best, but as a wise man once said, hope is not a strategy. Having a clear sense of your goals helps get you there. Do you have a budget? Does it set goals for profit and growth? Do you have clear objectives for your major initiatives?


If you make the cast and it is not on target, adjust, and do so quickly before the boat moves down stream and you miss the opportunity to catch the big one. Quick adjustment, what I refer to as agility, is a critical capability in business. Speed drives competitiveness and the ability to adjust quickly can be a key competitive factor.

Strong operations discipline helps to develop the capabilities for precision, accuracy and speed that will drive profitability and growth. Make sure you have the systems and processes in place to hit your goals. Then you have to be proactive, have the right internal capacity in terms of processes and people, and give them the right feedback so they know how they’re doing. The three elements of operations discipline are critical to top performance.

  1. Systems and processes
  2. Rules and constructs
  3. Feedback and key performance measures

The Take-Away

If you want to catch fish on a river like the Grande Ronde, you need to make your cast count. It takes skill, focus and quick reaction to hit the spots where the fish will take your fly. Often, the river’s speed only gives you one or two chances for success. Be intentional, have the right equipment and ability to cast, focus on where you want to put the fly, and react quickly if things go wrong. On the river, you’ll have the best chance of catching the big one, and in business, you’ll be ready to accelerate profit and growth.


© 2018 – Rick Pay – All Rights Reserved.