How’s The Water?


We’re putting the finishing touches on the featured interview for the September edition of InsuranceNewsNet Magazine and as also our interviewee has shared a deep well of wisdom with us.

This interview is with Stephen Harvill, who has researched why individuals and companies are successful. We explore techniques of simplifying, which is a key to doing well. Simply focusing on what sets you apart and how to elevate those. You have probably heard that before, but Harvill shows how to do it, based on his research. I think you’ll find it really helpful direction.

We don’t address one of his points in the article, so I will here. It’s the concept of “Never Ask a Fish About Water.” Basically it’s the idea that a company is immersed in its environment and that environment is all it knows. Everything is seen from that fishbowl. Hence, don’t ask a fish about water.

One of the ways to think outside the bowl is to look at someone else’s. The next time you go to a hotel, restaurant or store you loved or hated, ask yourself why. Often, it will have everything to do with the level of engagement with you. If someone seems to care about you genuinely, you are apt to forgive many lapses. When someone connects with you, you not only feel served by that person but that you want to help that person help you. Sort of like a graceful dance.

Think about the worst places where you get service. Usually it’s in overly bright box stores staffed by ground-down minimum wage workers. And often it’s when you’re in a hurry and cranky when you encounter these. You and the clerk probably got in a whole different kind of dance, more like a mosh pit. You just made each other’s day worse.

This is one of the themes of another fish and water discussion. This one from David Foster Wallace, a novelist who talked about this in a 2005 commencement address known as “This is Water,” that he delivered at Kenyon College.

It deals with alienation and finding the humanity in the grind of adult life. As boring and academic as that sounds, Wallace tells this in an engaging, approachable way. I can’t imagine someone not being enriched by listening to it. This is a version that crafted a brilliant video around the audio. (If you can’t watch it now, do yourself a favor and watch it when you can.)

It remains an eternal shame that Wallace’s wisdom could not bring him peace in his everyday life. After decades of suffering deep depression, he committed suicide in 2009 at age 46. This does not take away from the gift of empathy he left behind.

Empathy is of course the essence of serving others. When you can see a loved one in someone else’s place, you can relate to that person. When you say “that could have been my spouse,” or “she could have been my daughter,” you take a step closer to treating people like they should be.





Steven A. Morelli is editor-in-chief for InsuranceNewsNet. He has more than 25 years of experience as a reporter and editor for newspapers, magazines and insurance periodicals. Connect with Steve →

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