WATER and its liquid properties provide some paradigms for business and the economy. “Liquidity” for instance refers to the flow of money in the economy and on a personal level describes how much cash one has on hand, also called a cash flow. (Does this signify that cash just passes through and goes somewhere else?) A high level of liquid assets above operating expenses can describe an individual as swimming in cash.

Where one swims can also determine the perception of success in a career. Ponds are used for these aquatic exertions. Are you a small fish in a big pond? Or a big fish in a small one?

A pond is much smaller than a lake or an ocean. Fishes in the ocean provide a somewhat biblical slant (you will be fishers of men) though they can refer to job applicants too. Or even romantic prospects — there are so many fish in the sea. This one is a consoling thought for those who let one or two get away.

The combination of fishes and the pools of water they swim in can indicate career prospects. Thus, someone treading water in a large and profitable company with huge benefits, but occupying a low-tier position like senior manager in a structure where Vice-Presidents are a dime a dozen, is said to be a small fish in a big pond.

If this swimmer decides to move to a start-up fintech company in a low-rent office building, enticed by shares (sweat equity) and a glorified title like Chief Technology Officer (CTO), he is said to have turned into a big fish in a small pond. The big payoff is expected when the company lists with an IPO. This presumes that the IPO price kicks up on the first day of listing.

Why does anyone changing jobs feel compelled to describe himself as a small creature with fins swimming in a body of water? Why not simply admit that one has been forced to leave even if the big pond was indeed comfortable for fishes big and small? The pond as metaphor is intended to avoid embarrassing exchanges. Moves are somehow required to be perceived as voluntary, even planned.

Other watery metaphors are applied to economics and business.

The “trickle-down” effect refers to income distribution in macroeconomics. The theory holds that lower taxes at the top will trickle benefits to those lower down the income scale. This premise is contested by those who feel not even a splash coming from the top. The tax cut can even get out of the system into a safe haven.

A “pissing contest” which requires expelling liquid through a very small aperture, refers to the rat race. The supposition is that vitality (often associated with youth) allows the pisser to launch his liquid waste a longer distance. Here, the incontinent veteran suffers in comparison. The latter’s drippy effort on the amber stuff can make this urinary contest too one-sided. Size is not the issue here, only the speed and distance of delivery.

“Walking on water” is also a phrase used in business. It describes the divine attributes of those newly poached from stints abroad at stratospheric compensation levels and introduced as miracle workers — please welcome Divine Grace as our new CFO. She is known to walk on water, except in a storm. The new hire is expected to occasionally turn water into wine and raise assets from the dead.

“Passing water” is the reaction of cowed subordinates. The expulsion of liquid here is an involuntary reaction to water walkers. They also figure significantly in pissing contests. (See above)

Being “under water,” unless one’s business involves aquatic entertainment for socially distanced bar habitués drinking mojito and gazing through thick glass walls, denotes an unfortunate condition. It is ironically an illiquid state.

As for “sunk cost,” this refers to failed investments which should no longer affect future financial decisions. It is considered a bad strategy to tote up past losses when making new decisions, like acquiring a new company. This time let’s look closely at the valuation.

As for old acquaintances catching up with you, and how you’re doing in terms of the waterworks, it’s best to be vague. (I’m just keeping my head above water.) Such ambiguity allows conversation to move on to other problems, which can be dismissed as water under the bridge.

And in moments of economic difficulties, sometimes an offer of comfort can be irresistibly liquid. Need a drink?


Tony Samson is Chairman and CEO, TOUCH xda