The Pond Theory


I’ve been reading this book by Malcolm Gladwell titled David and Goliath…. The book attempts to bring to light the perceptions of advantages and disadvantages and how being the under dog may actually be the best starting position in any competition or pursuit.

The most interesting part of the book to me was chapter 3 which discussed in depth the theory of small fish:big pond vs. big fish:small pond. More specifically, was there an advantage to either and the example the book laid out was college selection. Was it better for a science major with above average test scores to to enter an Ivy league school, the little fish big pond, or take those same test scores and enter a “lesser” school but in doing so be the big fish in a smaller pond.

So which is better?

It’s best to weigh all of our options before I decide so I would like to offer up my view of the fish/pond scenario to you.

I have been in both scenarios actually in business. I was the big fish in a little pond when I owned my business. I operated in an area that was not only not saturated, but almost completely void of big fish. So to be a big fish in that pond really wasn’t that hard, you just had to be slightly bigger than the others and the whole pond was yours! Food sources were close by, the shores were warm and the thought of predators was really non existent. If I just woke up every day and worked hard, I was the biggest fish I could find. This was my stint as an entrepreneur.

But I left that pond and through a bad decision making process and entered the “big pond”. This pond is much different. I am the smallest fish here and the food sources are far away and I have to leave the comfort of the shore to go get them. The fish that want to eat me are everywhere and I actually can’t see the bottom any more. It’s like being in space when you are in water that deep. There is no top, no bottom, no measurable, comprehensible distances, just… space. Productivity is at a minimum because little fish don’t get access to needed knowledge of how this pond works. It’s harder to be in a big pond and I am with Gladwell on this one, I just don’t think the rewards outweigh the risks. This is my stint in the corporate world.

But like I said, maybe there is a different pond…

Maybe there is an enormous pond, a lake, no an ocean that we can exist in, that has the deep expanses and unlimited opportunity but allows for days and days of cruising the shore line looking for the easy food. Maybe the knowledge needed to survive in this ocean is readily available, it’s just our job to put it to work. And maybe, just maybe, this ocean can allow me to leave behind our Darwinian ideas of big and little fish, and just be a fish in this pond.

Being a daily participant in a 4 trillion dollar market is an ocean, no question. But this is really the only ocean I have swam in that doesn’t require me to size my fish. As long as I can pull my thinking away from a comparative or relative bias and just “do my thing”, I can be an independent fish, in an enormous pond. I can cruise the warm shorelines picking out only the most desirable food to eat and it depends on nothing other than my actions. No other fish have to move over for me to make it. The ocean is going to happen. There are so many fish out there bigger than me it’s not even worth the time to think about it. But I can exist here and that is fun.



3 thoughts on “The Pond Theory

  1. I heard Rob Booker mention the book a few weeks ago and along with Turning Pro is going to be my next purchase. Presently reading David McRaney’s, ‘ You Are Not So Smart, ‘ which is full of interesting ideas that can be applied to trading.
    Nice little article, keep writing and podcasting with Matt. Cheers

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