A Lobster Tale: An exercise in critical thinking

In reviewing the article, I have chosen to hone in on the three recurring themes:
  • APC 
  • Marketing 
  • Political Influence/Regualtion
Stepanovich (2009), The Lobster Tale, highlights not only the financial crisis that a fishing community faces but also issues around social inequality.

The story unfolds through various changes the community goes through, each time assessing the Alternatives, Possibilities and then ultimately making the best choice for themselves at that point in time.

Stepanovich clearly highlights the importance of marketing in the success of an enterprise, in this analogy an entire industry. In facing financial ruin, the fishermen develop a new category in the seafood market that had not existed prior. In creating this, they also effectively sell a consumer proposition around not only why people should buy lobster, but more importantly create the need at a price premium. Later in the timeline, the fishermen will again rely on marketing to overcome the challenge they face of selling a more orange lobster, to a consumer accustomed to white lobsters.

With a new crisis due to over fishing, the community first tries to avoid regulation by self-policing of quotas, which ultimately fails. Part of the failure is due to the fact that the wealthier fishermen have taken upon themselves to be the enforcers, exposing a rift between social classes. This forces the community down the route of regulation, with state enforcement of the regulation.

Stepanovich further shows how the wealthy are able to create barriers to entry in their industry. By exerting influence over the politicians they are able to limit licenses to the incumbents, and can be passed down to later generations. This not only keeps out new participants but also is clearly aimed at previously disadvantaged minorities of women and African Americans.

By keeping the licenses to a limited absolute number, they try create the impression that women and African Americans have no desire to enter the industry. Again forced legislation in the form of Affirmative Action is introduced. For a while with pressure being applied to vendors of required equipment, wealthy fishermen are still able to keep out the women and former slaves, whilst due to their superior capital reserves, simultaneously search far away markets as an alternate supply source.

This is when again they need to rely on marketing in order to upsell over domestic lobster. Around this period is the tipping point that the wealthy fishermen find their political influence diminishing, and they diversify into new, non-complementary industries.

What the author shows is that business is cyclical. You constantly need to evaluate your competiveness and profitability, then adapt. Sometimes this means some short term discipline for longer term payoffs, as shown in allowing lobster populations to recover from the over fishing. He also shows the importance of marketing as a business tool. But critically, Stepanovich shows how the wealthy elite is able to use politics to steer decisions towards favorable outcomes for themselves, at least in the short-term until public opinion overrides the corrupt officials position of power.

What is clear to me is that there is no utopia. Both regulated and unregulated markets have flaws and positive attributes, it is striking the balance that makes you great.

The Lobster Tale An Exercise in Critical Thinking Paul L. Stepanovich, doi: 10.1177/1052562909336532 Journal of Management Education December 2009 vol. 33 no. 6 725-746

[Grant Marais]