Companies as Alaskan Fishing Boats


What if companies are supposed to be like Alaskan fishing boats? You know, the kind on The Deadliest Catch.

So you have this tiny crew of total badasses. Everyone is a superhero at their particular role because the crew needs to stay extremely small to protect profits. The captain is a dictator. The mission is clear. And bad performances from anyone are immediately noticeable and immediately dealt with.

You hurt your back? Sorry, you’re a great crew member, but you’re not going out on this trip. You want to spent more time with your brother who’s visiting? Cool, you’re off the ship. This crew is for hardcore people only. Remind you of anything?

Reminds me of how Elon runs things at his companies, and now Twitter. Being someone who likes people, and who wants to see them happy and thriving, I’m disgusted by this approach to managing people. But thinking about the actual economics of it, and thinking about what a fishing boat or a social media company is actually there to do, and I’m not sure it’s the wrong approach. In fact, I think it might be the only approach that doesn’t lead to a constant pendulum of hiring thousands of people with multiple levels of management, which creates a structure and culture of mediocrity, who then have to be laid off on every down cycle.

So here’s the question: is it possible to run a company like an Alaskan Fishing Boat without being an asshole? To do so with empathy and camaraderie, and kinship? I think so. I think it’s just harder, and that there are multiple forces working against anyone who tries to do so. Not the least of which is the fact that people now join companies thinking they’re getting a second home, not an Alaskan Fishing Boat.

I also like this analogy for another reason. It makes it clear that it’s a job and not your identity. You are not a crew member. You are not IBM employee number 3329087. You’re a human. So sure, you can serve on the boat, and be paid, but don’t let that captain tell you your value. Your value is in yourself, not what you do working on a fishing run.

I think this way of thinking about work brings clarity to multiple phenomena we’re currently witnessing, including unhappy workers, mass layoffs during downtimes, and the outsized accomplishments of Tesla and SpaceX.

So to me the question isn’t whether it’s an effective way for people to run their businesses. The question is whether it’s a model that we should pursue given the effects on the people who work there.