The colorful idiom "big fish in a small pond" refers to a situation in which an individual is very prominent within a relatively confined area or situation. This type of situation may exist in a number of settings, and usually implies that if the individual were to move into other circumstances that encompassed a wider area or setting, he or she would not be quite as prominent. Used in a variety of settings ranging from social circles to placement within a company, or even a company within an industry, the term sometimes has to do with how the individual chooses to pursue his or her ambitions.
An example of a big fish in a small pond would be someone who grows up in a small town and chooses to build a life and career in that town, even though the individual could move to a metropolitan area and pursue the same type of career. In this scenario, staying in the small town where there is less competition increases the chances of gaining prominence in the local community. Should that individual move to a larger area where more people possessed similar skill sets, chances are that while it would be possible to earn a living, that individual would not enjoy the same high profile among his or her peers.
Companies can also be big fish in a small pond. When a company is the only one of its type within a limited geographic area, consumers tend to turn to that company for certain goods and services rather than traveling out of town in order to secure those products elsewhere. When this is the case, the company enjoys brisk business and a virtual monopoly in the local market. If that same business operation were to relocate to an area with a higher population and several different businesses that offered the same products, the company may continue to do well financially but would lose the high level of prominence enjoyed in the smaller community.
Being a big fish in a small pond can also translate into other areas of society. A leading family associated with a specific house of worship may exert considerable influence on how money is spent by the organization. Major investors in small companies may also exert a great deal of influence on how the company operates. Even in local neighborhoods, there is always the chance that one or two people will emerge as civic leaders, enjoying a degree of prominence that would not be possible if they lived in a larger community. While the term "big fish in a small pond" is sometimes used derisively, becoming a prominent part of a small community is nothing to be ashamed of; in many cases, those who rise to this level of prominence do so because their skills and talents are perceived as adding to the quality of life in the area, a trait that is always desirable.