Like a fish needs water

Like a fish needs water

30 April, 2020

There are these two young fish swimming 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?”1

David Foster Wallace

As we seek to move forwards there is a tendency amongst us all to try and take big steps. To improve our health we want to loose weight and get fitter a lot and quickly. But sometimes this can be counterproductive. Rather than achieving our goals we can see no improvement or worse still go backwards.

A recent conversation about buying food reminded of this.

A colleague is a board member of a housing association who, even prior to the Covid-19 crisis, were buying food for vulnerable households. Now the number they now buy for is between 120 and 140. At the best of times this is a logistical challenge but with disrupted supply chains the task is grown with additional challenges.

My immediate reaction when hearing about this was to suggest if other housing associations in the area had a similar problem and, if so, was there merit in pooling the buying power and forming some form of food buying co-op. This appeared to me to be a practical and achievable step which could be up and running relatively quickly with the potential for longer terms benefits. But I had jumped the gun.

What I hadn’t appreciated - through an ignorance of the practicalities and first hand experience - was that this housing association already had foundations on which to build.

Their food purchasing activity is already a partnership between themselves, a charity and a supermarket chain. They have been working together on this for a number years. There is a relationship which has been built between these partners. And in the current crisis, though times are tough, this service can carry on.

Two critical ingredients form reliable foundations on which to continue:

  • - relationships between those providing the service and
  • - knowledge of who needs to be provided with it and how.

It is so easy to overlook both particularly when the need a first appears to cry out for an immediate and radical solution.

The immediate and radical solution illustrated by this example is not to look for the purely novel or innovative but to build on what is already there.

Options for building on what you have in the medium and longer term will be emerging all the time. Whilst acting on them now might be beyond you, ensuring you have a record of what they could be is a resource on which you can draw as the conditions change to enable you to take those next steps.

Appreciating what you have is essential to moving forward. What you already have developed is the foundation on which to consolidate before building further. The time may not be right to make the next big steps now. But ensuring you have the best understanding of your foundations and the options for taking those steps will enable you to do so better when the time is right and continue to do what you do well until you can.

"It is about simple awareness - awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, that we have to keep reminding ourselves, over and over: 'This is water, this is water.'"

David Foster Wallace

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