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An Unlikely Classroom

By Chuck Violand

April 23, 2018

Alan Doyle is a Canadian singer/songwriter and actor from Petty Harbour-Maddox Cove, Newfoundland. He gained fame as lead singer of the band Great Big Sea and through his books Where I Belong and A Newfoundlander In Canada: Always Going Somewhere, Always Coming Home.

It was a recent interview with Doyle and his description of an early childhood job on the wharfs of his seaside town that caught my attention.

The economy of the community where he grew up revolves around the fishing industry. For five or six months each year, the local fisheries and townspeople work around the clock processing the cod the fisherman catch.

As a ten-year-old, Doyle began participating in this work. At six or seven o’clock on summer mornings, he would leave his house and run down to the wharf with a bucket and a sharp knife in his hands. His job, along with some of the other kids, was to wash the tables and the boats, and to help unload the boats for the fishermen. In return, the fishermen would let them cut out the tongues from the harvested cod. The kids would then make money by selling the tongues to some of the local restaurants as a delicacy.

As he told this story, Doyle related how this childhood work experience taught him invaluable lessons that would carry through into his adult life.

He talked about how, even as a boy with only one specific skill, he participated in the local economy. The community needed him, and he needed his community.

It’s the same with the communities within our companies. While we may view our individual company as insignificant in size and impact compared to external communities, each of us is an integral part of an interconnected society. We rely on each other, not only for the services our company provides, but for the jobs we create, the taxes we pay, the related businesses our company and our people support, and the organizations we back through charitable giving when our business prospers. Our companies are more than just the services they provide, regardless of their size.

Another lesson Doyle mentioned learning was that if he worked with a team, doing the work together, they all did better.

Every successful business owner has applied this same fundamental lesson in their company. No successful business or career has ever been built by one person working alone.

Doyle also learned that everyone benefits by being fair and honest with others. My guess is that he learned this lesson not only from the fishermen on the wharfs, but also from the restaurant owners he did business with, the other kids who were doing the same work, and from his parents around their dinner table.

If there’s one lesson the perspective of time really brings home, it’s probably this: it’s amazing how our relationships and reputations follow us throughout our lives.

Business lessons are just life lessons being played out in commerce. If we pay close enough attention, we learn that some of the best lessons are the ones we learned in our childhood.