Creating Culture with Fish!

Business, Journal,  Principals

Seattle’s world famous Pike Place Fish Market is renowned not only for its success, but for its atmosphere. Behind the fun at this remarkable business are the fundamental philosophies of FISH! – innovative approaches to building a world-class organisation and a great work environment known for service, productivity and uncommonly satisfied customers and employees. The REIQ spoke exclusively with best-selling author Dr Stephen Lundin to find out more.

So, you are probably already asking yourself how anybody could possibly create a workplace culture from fish. Well, it’s true! The FISH! Philosophy was inspired by the fishmongers of Seattle, Washington’s Pike Place Fish Market, and has literally become a world-wide phenomenon. Despite a very difficult work environment, they found ways to bring remarkable energy, commitment and creativity to their work. The Chief Executive Officer of ChartHouse Learning, John Christensen, encountered the market accidentally one day and instantly saw that something unusual was going on. A bunch of fishmongers – not MBA professionals or leadership gurus – were showing him how to bring more fun, passion, focus, and commitment to work. What he discovered was a perfect example of a wholehearted workplace.

The market was crowded and noisy, but when one of the fishmongers focused on a single customer, it was like they were the only two people in the place. And everywhere he looked, people were smiling, while the cash registers rang like crazy. Several people stood nearby, eating cups of yogurt and watching, wide-eyed. Christensen later discovered they came over each day from a nearby office for lunch just to soak up the fish market’s incredible energy so they could take it back to their own jobs.

So, why couldn’t every workplace pulse with this kind of energy, passion and wholeheartedness? Christensen, along with his colleague Dr Steve Lundin, decided to take a closer look what made the market so special. They soon brought cameras to the Pike Place Fish Market, and after watching hours of footage, they saw that the fishmongers created their engaging environment through a few fundamentals – simple but powerful choices that even real estate agencies can make. Christensen and Lundin translated these actions into a common language called ‘The FISH! Philosophy,’ which sets out seven connected principles that are the foundation for a healthy workplace and life, and are an easy prescription for a work life that balances joy, productivity and passion:

  1. Play: Work made fun gets done, especially when we choose to do serious tasks in a light-hearted, spontaneous way. Play is not just an activity; it’s a state of mind that brings new energy to tasks and sparks creative solutions. The fishmongers at the Pike Place Fish Market are world-famous for throwing and catching fish, to the delight of their camera-carrying customers who come from all around the globe to see the spectacle. It’s just one of the many ways they play.

“Now, you and I might do serious work but we can choose not to take ourselves too seriously,” explains Steve Lundin. “The now-famous quote from Southwest Airlines is an example of a light-hearted approach: There may be 50 ways to leave your lover but there are only 4 ways out of this plane.

“Or as Ken Blanchard (situational leadership expert) frequently says, ‘There are just too many people at work with tight underwear.’ In the liveable workplace, you find people doing serious work in a light-hearted way, and it makes all the difference in the world.”

  1. Make Their Day: When you make ‘someone’s day’ (or moment) through a small act of kindness or unforgettable engagement, you can turn even routine encounters into special memories. Back at the fish markets, upon entering you could easily (and mistakenly) think you’re just being entertained. However, if you stick around you’ll be engaged. The fishmongers are dedicated to making your visit memorable, and they do that by finding ways to make the customer’s day. You may find yourself catching a flying fish or involved in a harmless practical joke, but given enough time they’ll find a way to lighten your heart and create a memory.

“Our workdays are full of opportunities to make the day of our customers and of each other,” adds Lundin. “It might simply be a small kindness or remembering a name. When you make someone’s day, or even her or his ‘moment,’ you’re focused on serving others and the act of serving others quickly returns a feeling of satisfaction. The FISH! philosophy brings a wonderful way to seduce business away from a crazed desire for the bottom line and profit and toward richness in work and in the work environment, celebrating fun for both worker and user.”

  1. Be There: The glue in our humanity is in being fully present for one another. Being there is also a great way to practice wholeheartedness and fight burnout, because it’s the half-hearted tasks you perform while juggling other things that wear you out. The fishmongers have discovered the power of focusing on one person at a time, and they might multi-task when work needs to be done, but they’re not distracted when they engage customers.

“The antidote to burnout isn’t necessarily rest,” explains Lundin. “The antidote to burnout is wholeheartedness. It’s those half-hearted things you do while juggling other things that wear you out. Being there for others is a great way to practice wholeheartedness and fight burnout.”

  1. Choose Your Attitude: When you look for the worst you’ll find it everywhere. When you learn you have the power to choose your response to what life brings, you can look for the best and find opportunities you never imagined possible. At the market there’s a great deal of discussion about choice. It serves as a reminder of what the fishmongers have discovered: You can choose your attitude and, if you find yourself with an attitude you don’t want, you can choose another. “For example, we use the phone to remind us of our choices,” says Lundin. “When it rings, do an attitude check and ask yourself what attitude you want to convey on the phone when you answer it. If you need a different one, change it.”
  2. Make a Commitment: This is the opportunity to ask yourself what exactly it is that you’re committed to? The management and staff of Pike Place Fish Market express their commitment to each other and to the vision of the organisation with great regularity. And in that dialogue, commitment gains strength and clarity.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise to real estate agents. “We know the feeling of love comes from the act of loving and the feeling of friendship comes from being a friend,” further explains Lundin. “The satisfaction of participating in something larger than one’s self starts with the scary but rewarding act of being committed.

“Find opportunities to have conversations with your work colleagues about the nature of your commitment, individually and as a team. These conversations will surface possibilities that lead to new actions. The dialogue itself will create a work atmosphere that’s focused, honest and inspiring. You might just participate in creating the work place of your dreams.”

  1. Be It (Vision Moments): The fishmongers accept responsibility for recreating and renewing the market and its vision, by the way they’re ‘being’ at the market. They watch for opportunities to ‘be’ the vision by taking advantage of vision moments.

“It’s all about understanding your vision – seeing it, breathing it, living it – each and every day,” says Lundin. “A basic premise of FISH! is that with the right commitment and customer-focused culture, any real estate agency can fulfil its vision.”

Scandinavian Airlines (SAS International) were imploring their workforce to ‘be it’ when they created the idea that every interaction with a customer was a ‘moment of truth’ and the way these moments were handled determined the future of the airline. Well, the fish market takes this idea one step farther. Every moment you’re awake is an opportunity to be your agency’s vision and be your vision for yourself. “It’s about integrity and the possibilities you create for yourself and the world when you are being how you truly long to be in your life,” explains Lundin.

  1. Coach It: The fishmongers could put 360-degree feedback companies out of business if what they do catches on. At the market, the fishmongers give each other permission to coach each other within the context of their individual commitments to the vision. They’re encouraged to ask for coaching, and when they receive it, they can choose to accept or reject it. That is, the fish guys accept the responsibility to coach when they see something that’s inconsistent with their mutual commitment to the vision. Examples of inconsistency might include being grouchy, leaving a knife on the counter, becoming distracted or throwing a fish improperly.

“The important aspect of coaching is that it’s never done in the spirit of proving others wrong, but instead has the best interest of the person being coached and their work toward the vision at heart,” adds Lundin. “Imagine a work place where coaching is as ordinary as breathing. The first six points of the FISH! Philosophy create and renew such a place; the seventh gives it legs.”

With any desire to make a change to the culture of your real estate business, there must also be a commitment to the choice to do so. One business recently developed a detailed plan for implementing the FISH! Philosophy, but then had to delay its implementation due to other competing demands in the business at the time. During the delay, one of the team leaders became aware that the company’s plan had taken on the complexity one typically finds in a large-scale change program. That is, the simplicity that had attracted the business to the FISH! Philosophy in the first place was missing. Commitment can only flow from natural energy and engagement. It must be a result of choice, and not a result of mandate.

Knowing this, that business redesigned the program as an invitation to a higher quality work life, and not a requirement of work. They made a commitment to the change and a commitment to keep it simple, and simply let the FISH! Philosophy do its work. “There is a lesson in this story for all who seek to create a more liveable work place,” concludes Lundin. “You’ll know you have been successful when you go home at the end of the day and find you are energised, not drained; when you find you not only have time for the rest of life, you have abundant energy to live it.”

As co-creator of the FISH! Philosophy, Steve Lundin really does speak from the heart. In fact, his genuine words have tugged at thousands of hearts, and have changed the way people look at life. When you listen to him, you begin to understand that you can choose your response to life’s challenges. Lundin’s background in filmmaking saw him create the award-winning film, FISH!, and author the best-selling book, FISH! A Remarkable Way to Boost Morale and Improve Results! As a former consultant to such companies as IBM, Citibank and 3M, Lundin now speaks to businesses around the world about the FISH! Philosophy and how deeply employees long for a workplace where fun, energy and productivity drive out stress, boredom and burnout.


Fishing for More? Q&A with Steve Lundin

Fish! book covers

REIQ: With millions of copies having been sold, and the FISH! film having become an extremely popular business video, why is FISH! so popular?

Steve Lundin: FISH! is an international movement because it speaks to a growing hunger that people are feeling today. People are increasingly seeking meaning in their lives and want to be authentic at work. As The FISH! Philosophy spread into organisations around the world, people began to reinvent what their time at work could be about, and the passion, energy and accountability they discovered led to surprising business improvements. It’s proven to have universal application in virtually all industries because it provides people with quantifiable tools to change and lead meaningful lives.

REIQ: How do you translate the FISH! Philosophy into Australian workplaces?

SL: I’ve travelled to Australia many times. I don’t translate the FISH! Philosophy into Australian workplaces; but rather, Australian workplaces show me what they have done with the ideas in FISH! and I’m constantly surprised and amazed.

REIQ: Your first book explores the FISH! principles to further inspire people to be more fully engaged in the workplace, and illustrates how the lessons of the fish market can apply to typical organisational challenges. What is your follow up book FISH! TALES about and how does it differ from the first book?

SL: Through the film and book, we were inundated with inspiring stories from people all over the world about how the FISH! Philosophy has positively impacted their workplaces and in many cases, their home lives. So, we decided that the next edition, FISH! TALES: Real-Life Stories to Help You Transform Your Workplace and Your Life, would feature four real-life organisations and show readers how they boosted morale and improved results by implementing the principles. Each chapter details the barriers to change and the power to break through by solving common workplace problems – regardless of the industry you work in. FISH! TALES also features dozens of short bites drawn from an even larger variety of business and life situations. The last section of the book provides a detailed 12-week program with specific steps and action plans to help readers find greater life fulfilment.

REIQ: Is FISH! a corporate program?

SL: No, it’s not and nor is it the next corporate training fad. It’s an invitation to personal transformation that really transcends the corporate model. FISH! is an ongoing commitment to a way of being that an individual can put into practice that can transform their experience of life, regardless of their external circumstances. It’s really about owning your own happiness – even at work – and connecting with the human spirit.

REIQ: Does the FISH! Philosophy work best in smaller real estate agencies?

SL: Not at all. The FISH! Philosophies are not size sensitive, so can work in a real estate business of any size. FISH! operates one person at a time, and while it may be easier to see it in action when you have a confined setting, its not necessarily easier to do. So, I encourage real estate agencies of all sizes to consider implementing FISH! into their cultures.

REIQ: What if you want to bring The FISH! Philosophy into your workplace, but your co-workers and superiors don’t believe work should include a sense of play?

SL: When you’re going it alone, it can be difficult. It takes courage to say, “I’m taking responsibility for my own life.” But what you’ll find is that FISH! often starts with one person and quickly spreads. At first, people may wonder what you’re doing, but they’ll also wonder why they feel so good around you. They may adopt these behaviours subconsciously and eventually make the conscious choice to join you in practicing these principles. If people find that they’re getting stuck on the concept of play, look at it as light-heartedness. It’s not about a specific toy or game – it’s about how people approach work. You can take work seriously but take yourself light-heatedly. Play is the groundwork of creativity. A workplace with no fun or playfulness is usually a toxic workplace and a toxic workplace attracts neither customers nor employees. If either have a choice, they’ll go elsewhere. And it’s important to remember that the concept of ‘play’ is only one of the core ingredients. It operates in the context of all the other principles, and that you never let ‘play’ out by itself! Furthermore, implementing FISH! is also for enlightened leaders only since it requires some tools that are in short supply in the business world, which include modelling the way or walking the talk first, as well as inspiring, inviting and supporting others. So, if you’re not ready to start with yourself, simply get out of the way and let your people show you what’s possible.

REIQ: How do you keep the FISH! Philosophy alive once it has been launched?

SL: Each day we have a choice to try and live more joyfully, responsibly and wholeheartedly. Living the FISH! Philosophy is a simple choice, but a choice we need to make consciously everyday. If people commit to practicing the principles and are willing to have ongoing conversations about what really matters in work and life, any real estate business will continue to be energised. Actions speak louder than words. And as we’ve discovered where FISH! has worked in the past, it really begins to go deeper into the infrastructure – and soul – of the business.

REIQ: What are the essential ingredients needed to adopt and achieve what FISH! has to offer?

SL: You make a commitment to being fully human and you give others the power to coach you when they see yourself loosing your consciousness about humanity. You have the fierce conversations about what you’re building with your life energy and you make yourself vulnerable to the world. A commitment of this kind gets stronger and stronger and the fierce conversations are in fact the building blocks of your life.

REIQ: What are some of the other fundamental lessons that we can learn from the FISH! Philosophy?

SL: It’s not about time you spend at work; it’s about your life. And when you honour your life, at work or outside of work, you move in the direction of the FISH! Philosophy.