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The Modified Starfish Story

Updated: Jul 13, 2018

By Peng T. Ong

The original starfish story goes something like this:

One morning, a father and his daughter went down to the beach near their home. This morning when they walked along the sand they were amazed to see hundreds of starfish stranded all along the beach. There had been a storm the night before and the starfish had been washed up onto the beach. The little girl ran down to the waters edge and started picking up starfish and putting them back into the sea. The father asked what she was doing. The girl continued working but explained that if they didn't do something all the starfish would surely die when the sun came up. The father said, "I know, daughter, but there are so many, you can't possibly make a difference." The girl continued working, said, "That's right dad, but we can make a difference to this one, and this one, ..."

The modified starfish story adds...

At this point, the father thought of something he had been working on. He ran back to their home, drove out a bull-dozer like contraption, and started scooping up the starfish en masse. Before long, most of the starfish were back in the sea. The little girl was very proud of her father that day.

The moral of the story is not about whether it is better to do good for one person at a time, or to operate an impersonal machinery to save many. I find it difficult to define good in terms of numbers. I think the moral of the story is: to each his or her own sense of responsibiity and from each his or her ability.

As entrepreneurs, you are very much more in the position to operate the machinery that can change lives en masse. If that is your ability, please use it.

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