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Fish, tools and investment

By 6 January 2021January 30th, 2024Business thoughts

The stone age and the birth of the industry

It naturally occurred to some Prehistoric men thousands of years ago that building tools in order to make tasks easier would be a clever idea. Instead of catching fish in the river with bare hands, which takes a respectable amount of time and is rarely victorious (even with a very high degree of expertise), Neanderthal and the like figured out that it would be smarter to build tools to accomplish the task. Sharpen a stone, tie it to a stick and use it to fish the fish in the river. Indeed, that technique worked way better. After a few attempts and a little more experience, they found an even better idea: build a net, drop it into the river, and come back at the end of the day to pick up a net full of fish, ready to be cooked for dinner (with butter and a nice garnish). The idea of building tools to improve one’s life has been around for as long as humankind has been able to think. And as rudimentary as they are, sticks and stones were actually the first industrial revolution. 

Investment VS immediate gratification

Building a tool in order to replace crude basic work is not a completely instinctive behavior though. In fact, it is rather the opposite. Why in the world would you spend time to build a net, when you can just run after a fish? The former takes effort, patience and time, while the latter is straightforward and immediate. The vast majority of Neanderthals would go for the the latter. However, the benefits of the former are undeniable, as we shall see. They’re just not instinctive. Suppose it takes one unit of time to run after a fish, and 20 units of time to build a fishing net. Well, if you’re hungry, the second proposition is not particularly attractive… Investing 20 times the necessary time before getting to eat anything, and without the guarantee of success, will naturally repel most of the people. And furthermore, it will deprive you of the immediate gratification you get when you start running after the fish. So it does take discipline to invest time and effort in building tools, while you could just do things the same old usual way.

A fellow fisherman enjoying fish in the river

Mathematically speaking

Mathematically speaking, we can make some arguments on the following theme: « Is it profitable to build a tool? », or, a in a little more sophisticated way: « When does it start to be profitable? ». Let’s suppose you’re going to perform one same task several times, and that the time you need to build an efficient tool is 20 times the time you need to perform the task. We could argue, with simple arithmetics, that if you’re going to perform the task less than 20 times, well, then it is not worth your time and effort. Well, this is not strictly true. By designing and building your tool, you get to learn things and discover new horizons that you could never learn the other way. You get to practice creative thinking, trials and errors, patience, perseverance (elated joy and utter despair in consecutive episodes), and you get to accumulate knowledge that will prove of very high value in future endeavors (you just don’t suspect it yet). This kind of « immaterial, not immediate » reward to your effort is partly hard to grasp when you’re not used to it, and largely escapes the purely arithmetic profitability considerations. But it will prove highly beneficial over time.

Profitability and artistry

So, all this hard work, for what? Sewing a net — which you had never done before — when you could just run after a fish, was certainly a challenging thing to do. It was new, awkward, uncomfortable and brainpower-consuming. And to be honest, it didn’t take 20 times the time it takes to catch a fish, it took 100 times the time, because everything went wrong and differently than you thought. And for the extra thrill, you also had to starve yourself for a few weeks in the process. That’s the plain truth. So what is the reward for all that pain and suffering? Well, first: now you have a working tool. You finally have that great working tool you dreamt of. And now the fishing goes an awesome lot faster. Going back to arithmetics considerations: on the day you perform the task for hundred-and-first time (and every single day afterwards, until the end of time), the effort you made is paying you back. That’s for the arithmetics of time (and profitability). And second, the more subtle part: you’ve discovered something new. You are now enjoying a special sense of arts, crafts, effort and achievement. The fulfilment you enjoyed by building your tool is a reward in itself. And the fruits of your work just come as a pleasant bonus (the fish). Your philosophy might change accordingly: you may well be oriented into thinking more about the quality and the beauty of your new tools, and no longer care primarily about the fish. If you’re tenacious and hard-working enough to get to that point, then it’s very likely that you’ll spend your time in higher spirits, creating, crafting, imagining, and that fish will then start to come as a byproduct of your creative activity (with a delay though). Several pleasant feelings might surface: art, accomplishment, fulfilment. If you had some close team mates in the process, it will create a strong common bond and a sense of partnership. Being able to resist the urge of immediate gratification, being able to think long-term, to work the extra-mile, and invest the extra time, when it seems useless or non-necessary to the majority of your peers, is a very important asset in life.  « Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet » (Aristotle).

The fish and the sauce

What happens next? After thousands of hours of sweat and hard work, you’ve just added the last touch to your brilliant fishing net system that now works quasi-automatically. At this point, there is still a high possibility that you will keep seeing most of your fellow cavemen repeating the same scheme all over again: run after the damn fish yelling up and down the river with bare hands… You might be appalled and a little bit lonely. What the hell have they been doing all this time? Well, you might try a new venture… You might go from fishing to cooking and experiment the recipe of that fantastic new sauce you just created and that goes so well with your fish and garnish! You never though of being a cook, but hey, doing something you’ve never done before is something you’ve done before!

Back to the 21st century

It was not fully intended when we started to write this article to dive into rudimentary fishing techniques and Prehistoric society. However, one might argue that very little has changed over a few thousand years. So let’s go back to the future. In the twenty-first century, big data, space travel and satellites are the fishing topics of the day. We are the cavemen. So, is there any room left to practice the philosophy of building tools to to improve one’s life? Is there an opportunity to divert attention from basic repetitive needs towards more creative, artistic, inventive, and ingenious endeavors, and which will reveal more efficient and more fruitful over the long-term? Certainly yes. Everyone has the opportunity to invent their own case in their own field. We’d like to share our example with you. Our field happens to be satellite gravimetry. And our tool is called… the GRACE Plotter. Click here to continue.

Unveiling our new tool for satellite gravimetry