Do you remember the Dr. Seuss classic, “Yertle the Turtle”? In it, Yertle was the king of the turtles in a pond who demanded his subjects elevate him higher than the moon. The story was intended to make a mockery of ultimate power. There are still a lot of Yertles out there living separately in small ponds and I’m sure we all know a few of them. You can find them in companies, nonprofit groups, schools, even in our neighborhoods. They may not have been officially anointed king, but they very much try to play the role. It is what we commonly refer to as the “Big Fish in a Small Pond” phenomenon.
Titles and material objects are very important to the Big Fish, such as the biggest house in the neighborhood, the sportiest car, the largest boat, or whatever. They flaunt their extravagance as opposed to modestly concealing it. It thereby becomes a game with them to give the illusion they are somehow superior to everyone else. They basically want to be considered some sort of local power broker or social elitist, but in reality, they are essentially no different than anyone else, perhaps even weaker. True, people are impressed with such materialism at first, but I find the Big Fish tend to have serious character flaws and insecurities and, as such, are trying to purchase admiration and prestige as opposed to earning it through simple social skills.
The flaw in the Big Fish concept though is that size is relative. Whereas the fish may be big in one pond, it may very well be small in another wherein it’s limitations and insecurities are easily detected. Their ego is quickly deflated when this is brought to their attention. One has to ask if they are truly a big fish, why aren’t they living among their own kind? Why do they find it necessary to live among people they admittedly consider their inferiors?
The antithesis to this phenomenon is someone like Warren Buffett, one of the richest men in the world (and a very BIG fish), yet lives in the same house in Omaha, Nebraska he bought in 1958 for $31,500 (although some modification/improvements have certainly been made over the years). Nonetheless, I’m led to believe he has tried to lead a peaceful and unassuming life in his neighborhood for over 50 years.
I tend to be suspicious of Big Fish in Little Ponds. To me, they are trying to divert attention away from some other weakness they are hiding or have some ulterior motive. Eventually they are unmasked for what they truly are and their kingdom comes crumbling down. Just remember, Yertle the turtle may have been king for a while, but his subjects ultimately did him in.
Such is my Pet Peeve of the Week.
Keep the Faith!
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Tim Bryce is the Managing Director of M. Bryce & Associates (MBA) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Copyright © 2009 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.