Management lessons from the fish market

I recently visited a fish market in the southern India. And believe me, the experience has been nothing less than astonishing. 

"Well, you end up learning so much more from a fish market, than all the management lessons put together in the classrooms, from the best of the colleges. Trust me on this."

I may not be able to sum up my experience in total, but let me try to do some justice. And I want you all to know this, so here goes

So its a very busy street in a very small market place. This place is known for its famous fish varieties and spread, and garners attention from all the nearby places. The place is close by the sea fence, and the old shipyard is now the famous fish yard.  People flock the place from as early as 5 in the morning, and catch the best, fresh and live fishes for making it a day. I observed the crowd was unusually high on the weekends and public holidays. 

The place is buzzing with activity. There is so much energy and hype in the air. There are people shouting all sorts of prices and fish names, all lost in the buzzing noise in the air. Hundreds of people selling their best fish seize, and thousands wandering the lots to get the best of the best.  A great example for a traditional market place, lots of buyers and lots of sellers. Lots of transactions and lots of demand - supply movements. Such a healthy competition. Its a rarity to watch such a raw market place in the times of now. 

I was getting lost in the mad crowd. I happened to visit the place early in the morning, having understood of the crowd the day before, to get my hands on the famous murrel variety of the local fish. But as it seemed, I was already late. There were thousands of people across all the fish stalls in the yard. I was moving across the yard, and watching every lot to fit my feet into, and dig in for a buy. After a good 30 minutes or so, I saw a small pass through, in a mob circle, evidently surrounding a fish school. I sneaked in.

It was still not done. I was just getting started. I was surrounded by mad noises from all around. There were buyers shouting out for the fish, quantity and the prices, and lots of parallel shouts from the selling vendors again shouting for the fish, quantity and prices. I was getting tucked in the load of the shouts. I yelled "1 kilo murrel for me please, 450 rupees".  I sure heard myself. No one else did. I started yelling too, so much till someone hears me. 

It was not a single vendor. I saw the entire fisherman family in the middle of the crowd. There were 3 kids, aged around 10-15, a husband and wife, and another middle aged man (which I later learnt was the wife's younger brother). It was a team of 6 members handling thousands of transactions in a day, with great acumen, focus and planning.

Little did I understand what was happening inside. What looked like a cosmic chaos from the outside, seemed to be pretty organised and planned in the way the fish vendors were handling the demand from the fish buyers crowd.  

The lady was in charge of the ship., she had a final say in the fish sizes, quantity and pricing. If there was any negotiation to be done, it was only that lady who decides. She looked like a complete dominating force on the entire team. Needless to say, she was the team lead. She commanded authority, responsibility, calmness and strong will in handling the business. The lady set the needle for the weighs, weighed the fish, cleaned the tiger prawns in the free time in parallel, negotiated the prices, handled and settled the cash and delegated the next steps to the stand in man, in the team. It was her husband.  

The husband was a calm and composed person. Probably well educated too. He however let the transactions and the business owned by the lady. He was more of a team player, who did not bother about the roles. He was probably not a team lead, but a great leader. His presence was commanding. He absolutely talked with his eyes. He was able to delegate and communicate with the other team players with a gaze of an eye. He seemed to have great coordination and agility. The business just flew through him. He pulled the stock from the lady, cleaned up the scales, chose the next in line charge for the incoming stock and neatly passed on the fish with clear instructions. And in between the pauses, he did smile at his wife over the counter. They sure did have a great time.

The other team players were a happy lot. They were happy go lucky, joking around, messing around but making sure the work was getting done. And a great thing about the kids and the younger man, they were ready to do anything for the team. As the lady yelled, one kid quickly rose to get a bucket of clean water and passed on to the father. As the stock was closing, another kid rushes and brings a new stock of fish basket from the inn. The younger man did help over the cash counters and clean ups as a substitute. Things were just moving. And the business was smiling. It was a great happening atmosphere where the business was just thriving. 

So here is the thing. No matter what you learn on the projectors and books in the classrooms, the live hands on experience of handling a business is completely unique. You really need to fight it out and prove yourselves when you are in charge on the field. There are emotions, there is hard work, there is success and there is failure. There is love, happiness and struggle. There is so much more in a real world, then what can be shown in the books. There is so much we can yearn in silence and so much we can learn.

And yes, I did get my hands on the tasty murrel fish at last!! :)

This post is dedicated to all the fish vendors of the local markets, who break their sweat for our tasty treats.

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