I should warn you, the inspiration for this blog came from those who live their whole lives in a “sink or swim” world: the fish in my 125-gallon aquarium. I didn’t ask for this aquarium, but it came with the purchase of our house… and now I’m glad it did.

For one thing, just as the studies show, watching fish swim around is very relaxing and really does reduce stress. As you can imagine, that was appreciated in 2020.

Also, I’ve gained a few insights from observing the fresh-water fish in our tank. As a consultant on the science behind influence, I was fascinated by their behavior during feeding time. It has some important implications for all of us in the business world. Let’s start with…

Remember the expression, “Big fish eat little fish”? Not only is that true in the wild, but also in controlled environments, like our aquarium. In fact, even well-fed big fish will eat little fish if given the opportunity. In business, that can be seen in mergers and acquisitions or when megastores move into a small towns and then small independents disappear.

Little fish are not defenseless. They have some successful strategies that allow them to survive and thrive in an aquarium. If they are nimble and quick, big fish can’t keep up. The same is true in business. I’ve helped a number of “smaller fish” identify and leverage their key advantages to win major contracts when up against larger competitors.

The most surprising observation is particularly relevant during COVID: while fish of all sizes are constantly looking for food, they miss a lot of opportunities that are literally hitting them in the face. When I feed the fish, there are lots of small food flakes floating down in the tank, yet I see many fish frantically swimming through those flakes, totally unaware the food is right in front of them.

It looks like they don’t even see the small flakes because they are just focused on big flakes. Wondering if there are a lot of smaller, but still advantageous, opportunities that we are missing because our eyes are only on the big pieces of business?

As we start the first quarter of 2021, let’s consider the preconceived notions we have about business opportunities. 2020 is behind us, and I anticipate the tides will change. The pandemic didn’t just close off opportunities, it opened new ones. They may come in different forms than what you expect, but if you are observant, you won’t swim past them.