Tuesday, August 15, 2006


During recent bike rides, I've been listening to the audio disc version of When Fish Fly, the personal story and philosophy of John Yokoyama and the World Famous Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle. This is the behind-the-scenes story of what CNN has called "the most fun place to work" in the world. Pike Place is more than guys throwing fish and having a great time with customers; it's a winning approach to life, work, and mission.

CATCHING THE SPIRIT. I knew nothing about Pike Place when someone loaned me the top-selling motivational/training video Fish! I just knew that those 17 minutes captured my imagination as the director of a homeless day center; the video captured the imagination of our staff and volunteers, too. We weren't sure what all we were seeing or what we were supposed to do with it, but it challenged us to examine how we looked at and served our customers--homeless neighbors--in a new light. Already, we were transitioning from an entitlement and service provider mentality to a strengths-based and hospitality-centered approach to social service. The Pike Place guys challenged to take it to another level.

WHEN WORK IS PLAYFUL. The principles the Pike Place folks practice are simply stated: Play, Be There, Make Their Day, Choose Your Attitude. You can explore these four practices a bit further at this link. As the guys at Pike Place work at handling and selling fresh--albeit stinking, slimy, icy--fish, they are playing. In this setting, work is playful. Fish or seafood chosen for purchase are thrown back to the packagers to chants and songs. Customers are joked with and engaged with banter. Fellow workers play off each other’s antics. And the whole thing becomes contagious. It’s not just play. These guys are committed to bring their whole focus into their time at work (“be there”), try to make each customer’s day, and choose an attitude of friendly service over complaining, etc.

PRACTICING WHAT THEY PREACH. I snapped this photo of Pike Place when I was in Seattle a couple of years ago. It was the end of the day and the guys were trying to close up and clean up. Still, they had a moment for a few photos and friendly conversation. They live what they talk about...even when tired. You can look in on the World Famous Pike Place Fish Market via their live web cam and learn all about this really unique business at www.pikeplacefish.com. You might even buy some fish!

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