Teach a Man to Fish: Problem Solving for Small Business Owners

Teach a Man to Fish: Problem Solving for Small Business Owners

Most of us have heard the phrase “Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime.” It references the notion of charity versus teaching or skill-building. We often think about the idea for basic life skills, but it is quite applicable for the relationship a business owner has with their attorney. 

Lately I have been reading (and asking the rest of the team to read) a book called Legal Upheaval. It is a book that is geared towards attorneys but combines aspects of the practice of law and concepts of design, which is an interesting intersection of my own professional life. 

One of the ideas in the book that struck me particularly hard was that the role of lawyers is not to solve problems, but rather enable clients to deal with their problems. This concept drives why we spend so much time learning about our General Counsel clients’ businesses rather than just the problems they face. 

This “teach a man how to fish” mindset is so relevant for small business growth and development. Our goal as attorneys is to advise our clients and get them to a place where they can develop and use a framework for managing problems

We teach clients how to deal with issues like employee benefits, workers comp claims, and customers or client conflicts, or anything else.  Despite popular belief, whatever problem a business owner may face, our role as lawyers is not to just solve the problem. Solving the problem is easy. Writing a policy to deal with a problem when it happens again is a little more difficult. To avoid that a problem happens again we must face the difficult task of addressing the root cause of the problem. That is what a General Counsel should be doing.

If all we do is solve a problem, all we’ve done is give a man a fish. Rather we use design principles, such as empathy, defining the root cause of the problem, developing ideas and prototype solutions, testing, and feedback to develop a structure that allows business owners to deal with their problems as they come or to avoid them all together. We strive to teach a business owner how to fish. We help the business owner find the best route to take to manage or avoid the problem, assuming that it can and most likely will come up again in the future. 

This is not to say the business owner is on their own, but rather, as your General Counsel, we walk through the process alongside the business owner to empower the owner to resolve conflicts. Being able to create a problem solving structure along the way reflects a proactive legal strategy that can engage other team members or a management team. The key is in collaboration, not following orders.  

We teach people how to fish, we don’t just give them a fish.