“Governing a large country is like frying small fish.
Too much poking spoils the meat.”
Laozi 531 BCE
As a Specialist-Generalist, some days you can feel you have ‘bigger fish to fry’ than what’s on your plate; but Laozi advocates taking care with the small ones too…
According to traditional accounts, Laozi was a scholar who worked as the Keeper of the Archives for the Chinese royal court of Zhou 6th–5th century BCE. This reportedly allowed him broad access to the great works of literature and philosophy of the time.
Whether speaking of a great nation, a large organisation – or simply ourselves as individuals – Laozi advocates patience and self-control.
It is easy to rush into rushing. Anxiety, pressure and the desire to get things done pushes people to ‘turn up the heat’ and force issues. But turn a piece of tender fish too soon, and it will just fall apart.
Forcing things often generates unnecessary tension; and once that negative energy is released it’s almost always: a) difficult to control, b) flows off in all directions and c) results in unintended consequences.
The point of Laozi’s famous saying is: all leaders – big fish or small – need patience, self-control, good timing, and sometimes (hard as it is) to allow things to take their natural course.