Monday, November 24, 2008

Lessons from the book "When Fish Fly"

These are notes based on the book:

When Fish Fly: Lessons for Creating a Vital and Energized Workplace from the World Famous Pike Place Fish Market by John Yokoyama and Joseph Michelli, Ph.D.

The Big Idea
People come from far and wide to the World Famous Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle, not only to witness the hilarious spectacle of fishmongers throwing slippery salmon to one another, but also to share in the joyous atmosphere generated by the company’s uniquely vital culture.

Pike Place Fish was not always World Famous, however. In this remarkable business-advice book, owner John Yokoyama tells the story of how he transformed a small company on the verge of bankruptcy into an extraordinary model of success. It all began with a vision: By declaring themselves “World Famous” (before it became a reality), Yokoyama and his employees made a conscious decision not just to seek fame but to make a positive difference every day in the lives of each of their customers, suppliers, and colleagues.

Why You Need This Book
This book offers stakeholders – owners, managers, and front-line workers alike – strategies for achieving world-famous results in any kind of business by developing a culture that leads to excellent customer service, legendary employee morale, and a fun and energized work environment.

After all, if Pike Place Fish can make a world famous difference from a small storefront, with zero advertising, in a smelly, physically challenging profession, then the same is possible for any company.

Creating a Vision of Power and Possibility
With the declaration of “World Famous Pike Place Fish”, the company evolved from one that existed totally to sell fish to one that was interested in extraordinary service to its customers and its world. Merely selling fish was no longer the main reason it was open for business.

It generates a more meaningful reality for all of the employees, who are not simply fish salespeople; they are agents of change. Anyone can sell fish – few can make a world-famous difference while doing it.

A purposeful vision has power like nothing else – breakthroughs happen as a result. Looking past the everyday demands of the bottom line, every employee continually seeks to love the company’s vision, World Famous Pike Place Fish. For them, the vision is the bottom line. If World Famous Pike Place Fish is present through them, all else falls into place.

It is very clear to John Yokoyama what World Famous Pike Place Fish means. From his perspective as the company’s owner, he aims to:

Make a world famous difference in the lives of everyone who comes into his business;

Empower the creative people he works with so that they can make a world famous difference for each other, the customers, the community, and beyond; and

Demonstrate what is possible when one empowers one’s employees. (Originally, John’s desire was to demonstrate this only to small-business owners. These days, he also finds himself sharing these possibilities with executives in large corporations, as well as with organizations and community leaders.)

Achieving Individual Commitment and Team Alignment
At Pike Place Fish, people are viewed in a very different way. People are not objects to be motivated or persuaded into action. Fundamentally, people are creative beings and they should be treated as such.

Once the powerful creativity of employees is accepted, you simply need to present the opportunity for them to grow. In a general sense, this is the new reality John offers at Pike Place Fish.

You can come to work and affect the world for the better. You can matter in the lives of others. You can share a powerful vision with our team and create breakthrough success, and yes, you can do all that while throwing and selling fish.

I also affirm that I am devoted to having my business and the people in it make a profound difference.

We are committed to this, and everybody who works here has personally taken responsibility for participation and for being on this boat.

Committing to working here means you are not just accepting a job. If you take a stand to be on this team, you are declaring that you will make a difference for every customer and have a positive, world famous impact on the world at large.

If you say “yes” to working here, you become an owner and creator of this vision. What that means personally for you is that you are World Famous Pike Place Fish.

Focusing on the Process for Achieving Success
Through management’s intention to use World Famous Pike Place Fish as a way to serve other people, and the subsequent process that that declaration called forth, the company’s crew has made a difference in people’s lives and in the success of the market. Being is strategy in action. We create intentions and commit to them. Change really happens naturally, just out of who you’re being. You will create your own way, and you’ll create doing what you do. Our secret to success lies in our commitment to being who we say we are.

Choosing Powerful Conversations
When you shift conversations and explore the greatness of your team members, you’re likely to be a person who creates opportunities for their strengths to show up on the job.

What conversations are automatic for you? How do you and those with whom you work yield to power-limiting conversations? By stopping automatic, passive, and power-reducing conversations, dynamic and generative forces are unleashed, and these forces drive their success and fuel their ability to make a difference.

Creating deep and powerful conversations works at Pike Place Fish, and powerful conversations have positively transformed the lives of the employees’ families as well.

Making a Difference by Listening Intently
When staff members feel that their manager listens to them, they are more likely to listen to their co-workers as well. Listening gives people access to their creativity and assists them in relating to one another.

When you live your life with a genuine interest and concern for others, it’s clear to you when members of your team aren’t listening to make a difference. It’s easy to coach them and receive coaching from them to make sure that they are listening to one another and to those who come into contact with your business.

If you are going to listen powerfully to your customers, you can’t do it in order to make more money. If you do listen for that reason, it is just a form of manipulation. When you truly listen to someone, you hold that person in high regard. Has someone has truly listened to you lately? Do you typically listen to make a difference, or do you usually listen to defend yourself?

Coaching for Greatness
Let’s look at some conversations that interfere with coaching:

“Why should I coach them? “I don’t want to change. “I don’t like the way you are coaching me, so I am not listening.”

When it comes to coaching, Pike Place Fish is a strange place. Defensiveness and resistance to change have melted away, and people see coaching as an opportunity for growth.

As a result, things get done better than ever before, and the Pike Place people are at their creative best. The success of the company’s coaching starts with the staff’s intention to make a world-famous difference and their commitment to care enough to consistently share supportive, compassionate comments and ideas with one another.

While unusual, their culture is available to any workplace. It’s just a conversation away.

While it is difficult to separate out the key components behind any company’s success, the following elements are behind Pike Place Fish’s success:

Creating a vision of power and possibility as a team

Enrolling and formalizing individual commitment and team alignment to the vision

Helping team members distinguish between the state of being and the state of doing

Having the leadership redefine themselves as effective agents of change

Assisting team members in letting go of internal and external conversations that rob them of their personal power

Guiding team members to listen to make a difference instead of listening to defend or blame

Helping the crew live their commitment to one another through effective coaching

Assisting crew members as they turn snags into breakthroughs

How empowered, energized, and alive can you make your workplace? If Pike Place Fish can make a world famous difference from a small storefront with zero advertising in a smelly, physically challenging profession, then what’s possible for you, your business, your family, and your community? is a business book summaries service. Every week, it sends out to subscribers a 9- to 12-page summary of a best-selling business book chosen from among the hundreds of books printed out in the United States. For more information, please go to

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