The world famous Pike Place Fish story A Breakthrough for Managers By John Yokoyama and Jim Bergquist Fifteen years ago, John Yokoyama, the owner of Pike Place Fish, a retail fish market in Seattle’s historic Farmer’s Market, and his employees committed themselves to becoming World Famous Pike Place Fish. With his business at a crisis point, John contacted Jim Bergquist, founder of BizFutures Consulting Company, for advice. Jim invited John to commit to creating an extraordinary future. To begin this process, they created three powerful intentions: •To show other business leaders what becomes possible when they are willing to commit themselves to empowering their employees. •To demonstrate what happens when you create a mighty purpose for your organization that includes prosperity and success as obvious by-products for every employee. •To let people see the actual possibility of intentionally creating the future through a process that makes a difference in the quality of life for all people. As Jim and John worked together, they asked some significant questions: What’s beyond successful survival and prosperity in business? Can the people in a company intentionally cause their own future? What happens if you truly empower your employees? Can a company make a difference in the quality of life for people? For our planet? Their exploration reveals an incredible adventure into the amazing power of human creativity as it is manifested in a retail fish business. It has opened up both extraordinary opportunities . . . and more questions. In this essay, John and Jim tell their story. John Yokoyama’s big fish story For me, it all started when I purchased Pike Place Fish back in 1965. At that time, I was one of several employees. The business wasn’t very successful, and the owner really hated it. After many unsuccessful attempts to sell the business, my employer offered me the opportunity to purchase Pike Place Fish . . . he really just wanted to get rid of it. At first I said “no.” As a young man of 25, I was hesitant to buy the business. I didn’t want the responsibility. However, the monthly payments on my beautiful, new 1965 Buick Riviera were taking most of my pay. I finally decided I could do better on an owner’s salary and went ahead and bought the company. So, originally, I purchased Pike Place Fish so I could make my car payments! For the next 20 years, I worked very hard to try to make my business successful. During the first six years, I worked 12-hour days, six days a week without ever taking a vacation. While the business wasn’t a huge success, it did okay. We made a decent living, but we had to work hard for it. I wanted something more out of my business and started to consider expanding in some way. Around 1986, I decided to try the wholesale side of the fish business. Boy, was that a big mistake! The person I had in charge of this side of the business put me seriously in the hole in just nine months! At this point, my business and I were in trouble. We were flirting with bankruptcy. I got my team together at a meeting and told them, “It’s either sink or swim.” We decided to swim. Right around the same time, an old friend, Karen Bergquist, called and suggested that I meet with her husband, Jim, who happened to be a consultant. We had a meeting, and Jim told me he had a unique approach to consulting. He said he could coach my team and me and show us how to create a great future. He told me that I was thinking too small . . . that I needed a bigger purpose . . . a bigger game. Then he invited me to commit myself to a threemonth trial period. I told him that I was struggling just to stay in business and that I’d be crazy to hire a consultant at that time and so the answer was “no.” He said, “John, this is exactly the perfect time to hire me, and if you don’t see results within three months, you can fire me.” I can’t say exactly why I changed my mind because it really wasn’t a logical business decision. Maybe it was the attraction of creating a really great future, but I decided to do it. That was the beginning of our work together, and 15 years later, Jim still consults with me and leads our bi-weekly staff meetings. The Pike Place Fish vision In one of our early Pike Place Fish meetings with BizFutures, we asked, “Who do we want to be?” One of the young kids working for me said, “Hey! Let’s be world famous!” I thought, “World famous? What a stupid thing to say!” But the more we talked about it, the more we became excited about being world famous. So we printed “World Famous” on our boxes. Then, after a while, we asked, “What does being world famous mean?” And we created our own definition. For us, it means going beyond just providing outstanding service to people. It means really being present with people and relating to them as human beings. You know, stepping outside the usual “we’re-in-business-and-you’re-acustomer” way of relating to people and intentionally being with them right now, in the present moment, person to person. We take all of our attention off ourselves to be only with them . . . looking for ways to serve them. We’re out to discover how we can make their day. We’ve made a commitment to have our customers leave with the experience of having been served. They experience being known and appreciated whether they buy fish or not. And it’s not good enough just to want that— it takes an unrelenting commitment. We’ve made it our job to make sure that experience happens for every customer. One time an elderly couple from New York wanted to haggle over the price of our fish. They were upset because the prices weren’t negotiable. Sammy, one of our fishmongers, overheard the conversation and jumped in with “Hey, are you from New York? I grew up in New York. Where do you live?” By the time they left, Sammy knew their names and the kind of work they had done as well as stories about their children, their life in New York, their trip to Seattle and how many people they were having over for dinner when they got back home. He also knew what kind of fish they were serving because he helped them pick it out and even gave them recipes for cooking it. Their order was for more than $500. A week later, Sammy received a letter telling him all about the great party and thanking him for making a difference for them. To us, being “World Famous” is a way of being. It’s about taking care of people. We’re always on the lookout for how we can make a difference in people’s lives. Originally, we wondered, “How are we going to become world famous? We don’t have any money to advertise!” Jim told us we didn’t have to know how to become world famous. He told us that when you’re generating a powerful vision, the future just unfolds. He told us not to believe in it. We just had to be it. He pointed out that there’s a big difference between a belief about something and the actual thing itself. Muhammad Ali didn’t say, “I believe I am the greatest.” He said “I am the greatest.” He was declaring himself. It’s the difference between the idea of being great and being great out of the commitment that you are. Jim said, “Your commitment to being world famous will naturally give you what to do.” So, as individuals, each of us aligned with the commitment and declared, “We are World Famous Pike Place Fish.” Jim was right. Once we declared our commitment, things really started happening. W.A. Murray, who wrote The Scottish Himalayan Expedition in 1951, talks about the importance of commitment. In a famous quote, he says: “Until one is committed there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is an elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans; that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no one could have dreamt would have come their way.” I have also gained a deep respect for one of Goethe’s couplets: “Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.” So, we committed ourselves and here’s what happened. The little fish who could First, the Goodwill Games came to Seattle. Photographers from all over the world showed up at the public market to capture some scenes of Seattle. They asked people in the market, “Where are the guys who throw the fish?” They wanted to take pictures of us to show the folks back home. News crews from China, Japan, Zaire, Russia, Germany—from everywhere— filmed us. Then a film crew from Hollywood asked if we could supply a couple of guys to be in their movie, “Free Willie.” We could and we did. Some time later, one of our employees caught Spike Lee on MTV. He was looking for places to film his famous Levi’s commercials and for people who had an interesting job. He invited people who thought they had an interesting job to call or write to him at MTV. Our guy figured that he had an interesting job, and besides that, he was a “World Famous Fishmonger.” He called MTV. Out of more than 600,000 responses, they picked his. We made a Levi’s 501 commercial with Spike Lee. Meanwhile, our manager was being featured on a local radio talk show every morning, talking about the Pike Place Market. When Nordstrom finished building their flagship store, they painted a billboard showing five of Seattle’s leaders on the side of their building. One was the face of a World Famous Pike Place Fishmonger. At one point, ESPN showed up to film our fish-throwing crew as a backdrop for their sports programming. Then came ABC’s “Good Morning America, live from Pike Place Fish,” NBC’s “Frasier,” MTV’s “Real World,” and CBS’s “Sunday Morning.” We have been captured on film and talked about in print by filmmakers and journalists from all over the world. In 2001, we appeared in People and Fast Company magazines. We are now a part of the Guinness Book of World Records by setting a world record for catching—with one hand—the most fish in 30 seconds. Two employees flew to Hollywood for the Guinness Records TV show. They were filmed throwing and catching 16 fish in 30 seconds with only one hand. About four years ago, in one of our staff meetings, my brother Dickey, who is also the manager of Pike Place Fish, said, “OK guys, it’s time for ‘Pike Place Fish the movie’ to show up.” Two weeks later, John Christensen from ChartHouse International Learning Corporation came to see us and asked if he could make a video of us at work. We said “sure.” So many people tape us every day that it didn’t seem unusual. We had no idea that he would produce two award-winning corporate training films, “FISH” and “FISH STICKS.” These two videos document our company culture at Pike Place Fish as interpreted by ChartHouse International Learning Corporation. They have been translated into 12 languages and have become the best-selling corporate training videos in the world. Then one of John Christensen’s associates published the best-selling book, FISH!, which made the bestseller list in The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, as well as the bestseller lists in Japan and Germany. In a CNN Special Report in March 2001, CNN identified the two most fun places to work in the United States. The World Famous Pike Place Fish Market was number one. It goes on and on . . . I know I’m leaving out many details of our story, but these events show what has happened as a result of our commitment to our vision. Except for our website, we’ve never advertised. Without spending one penny, we’ve received more media exposure than many large companies that spend tons of money in advertising. All of this is a result of our continuing to come from our vision and be true to our commitment to make a difference for people—to be “World Famous.” Our story is really a great testament to the power of commitment. We create intentions and commit to them. We never know how the results are going to show up. So, while it’s true that we’ve intended everything that has happened, the events seemed to come “out of the blue.” Change really happens as Jim says, “Naturally, just out of who you’re being.” People want to copy us . . . to do what we’re doing. We keep telling them, “Your success isn’t in doing what we do; it’s in discovering your own way. Don’t do what we do. You just have to be. That means commit yourself to being who you say you are: act like, think like, look like, feel like, speak like . . . be it! You will create your own way by doing what you do. Our secret to success lies in our commitment to being who we say we are. Just be it. Your challenge is to ‘just be’ who you want to be.” Beyond the biggest fish Recently, we realized that we’d accomplished our vision to become world famous. Once we committed to our vision, things seemed to kind of naturally open up and show us the way and provide opportunities to fulfill our vision. We kept stepping into the opportunities, and we did it—we became world famous!” But then we had a problem because once you’ve fulfilled a vision, you have to either sit around, rest on your laurels, get fat-headed and arrogant, or you generate a bigger vision. So we asked ourselves, “Now what?” We began to look at what else we could be world famous for. And we created a new vision. Now our vision is “World Peace, an idea whose time has come.” How are we going to accomplish this? We don’t know fully yet. It will unfold as we go. For example, not long after we declared our commitment to world peace, we were filmed on CBS’s “Sunday Morning,” and we shared our vision with millions of people. Out of that program, we received a large number of email messages letting us know that we weren’t alone in our commitment. One person, a Japanese-American doctor who worked in Nagasaki and Hiroshima after World War II, sent us a book he wrote and called to tell us about a course he’s teaching at UCLA, all to promote peace in the world. When you take a stand and commit to something, it’s amazing how events seem to occur to forward your commitment . . . even this article that you’re reading is an opportunity to communicate our vision. After the new vision has unfolded, after we know how it happened, we’ll tell you the story just as we are right now. By the way, we’re inviting you and everyone else on the planet to join us in making this vision happen. This is what’s next for us. But now, I’d like you to hear the story as Jim Bergquist tells it. From music to management I started out to be a musician. I am a classically trained pianist who earned a living playing in jazz and rock groups. I’ve always been deeply interested in human creativity and how it shows up in people’s lives, particularly in their work. So, I’ve been studying and participating in different creativity and transformation programs for nearly 30 years. In 1977, I volunteered for “The Hunger Project,” a United Nations non-governmental organization whose vision and commitment is to end world hunger. They use a particular approach to managing people that is focused on the innate creativity of every human being. They employ a management style based on inspiring commitment rather than the more conventional motivational models. After a few years, I joined their staff and became adept with this new management approach by managing and coordinating all Hunger Project volunteers worldwide. After completing my job with the Hunger Project, I was invited to work as a management consultant with a firm in Seattle. In 1983, I formed my own company, BizFutures Consulting Company. Under new management: Inspiration and creativity The management approach behind the Pike Place Fish success story starts with the profound realization that human beings are, at their very core, powerful and creative beings. Creating and running a business or an organization is fundamentally a creative endeavor, probably more akin to conducting an orchestra or coaching a sports team than it is to operating a machine. From this basic insight, we derive some underlying principles that allow us to reinvent or really to newly create our companies and ourselves. For managers, these principles generate a whole new world in which to think and create as well as a way of operating that is at once both simple and powerful. People can create new realities . . . if they choose to do so. By the way, this approach is a complete departure from conventional management theory, which we’ve inherited from Frederick W. Taylor’s mechanical worldview of people in the workplace. Taylor worked as a machinist and shop foreman at the turn of the last century. He became a mechanical engineer and is famous for Principles of Scientific Management, published in 1911, and for his time and motion studies. He’s considered to be the father of modern management science. Taylor was a brilliant man who lived in a historical time when the universe and everything in it was considered to be one big machine, a concept still commonly held. It’s a world metaphor we have inherited and take for granted. But we’re now in the process of evolving out of this old paradigm into a new one. New paradigm, new principles At BizFutures, we believe that the whole field of management is undergoing a paradigm shift, changing from a mechanical view of humans as objects who can be “motivated” with carrots or sticks to seeing people as creative beings. In this new paradigm, you work with people at the level of being. By “level of being,” I am implying that when you’re working with people from an intention to empower them, it’s useful to distinguish different levels on which to work. One level is the physical level, as when a football coach has his linemen practice running through a set of car tires. Another is on an intellectual level, working with ideas and concepts. Another is the psychological level, working with people on their psyche (emotions, beliefs, personal history, selfimage). Working with people at the “level of being” means working with people on who they are being, the way in which they are constituting their reality. Working with people on who they’re being requires a great capacity for respect and appreciation. You have to honor every person. You learn to distinguish the world of people, objects, and circumstances in a completely new way. Rather than seeing people as production units, you see them as powerful, creative being capable of great performances. You work with people by beginning with what inspires them, what moves them, what they’re naturally committed to. You coach them . . . allow them to coach you. Everyone is learning—and the results go through the roof, off the charts—literally, you have to make your charts and graphs much bigger. When you empower people to be creative at work, the whole company moves to another dimension—it generates a whole new order of productivity. Working within this paradigm, we’ve distinguished quite a few underlying principles, and there are many more that we haven’t yet differentiated. I’ll tell you about four key principles. The principle of personal power The first one is “The Principle of Personal Power.” It says that basically, you’re it, you are the whole thing. It’s the power of personal responsibility, meaning that you’re willing to look at things from the point of view that you are personally responsible for your own experience of the world. It means to operate in your job as if you are the source of what is happening. It’s based on the insight that groups of people don’t create, only individuals create; of course, they can create with others, but the point is that only individuals have the power to choose. The principle of co-creation The second principle is “The Principle of Co-creation.” This means you find yourself operating in a state of personal power with other people who are also acting out of their sense of personal power, and you find yourself aligned with them on some common purpose or vision. At this point, you see the emergence of extraordinary teams of inspired people, people who are playing in the zone, i.e., performing at a whole new level of competence and productivity and having fun doing it. The principle of creating a vision of power and possibility Of course, the new paradigm assumes that people have done the work to create a vision of power and possibility, a third underlying principle. A vision of power and possibility generates an environment that allows people to be creative, even when things seem to be going wrong. Even the mistakes you thought you made turn out to be the right choices. The vision moves people, touches them deeply, and it transforms the circumstances. It creates a new context for the existing set of circumstances and allows people to see them in the light of the vision. You don’t use a mighty vision to make your goals or achieve your mission. It uses you. It’s as if you’re riding on a real force of nature. The principle of allowing for discontinuous results This leads to “The Principle of Allowing for Discontinuous Results.” Outcomes and events evolve that you haven’t brought about in the usual “cause and effect” way. People and circumstances will transform. You actually have to create the room for breakthroughs to happen at a rate faster than you’re used to. Otherwise, you might tend to allow the temporary sensation of being dislocated to impede the natural unfolding of the vision. We also call this “The Principle of Transformation.” A fish too big for the ocean Pike Place Fish is a perfect example of these principles in operation. Their sales volume has increased by a factor of four, and they’re working in the same 1,200 square feet they’ve always occupied. Using dollars per square foot, you would be hard-pressed to find a retail operation anywhere that produces what these people produce. Since John committed to empowering his employees and including them in the game, his cost of doing business has dropped from 77 percent to 54 percent—that’s a 43 percent increase in gross profit, all because each individual in the company has taken personal responsibility for company profitability. They like to win. They take it personally. They set new records nearly every month. And this approach is not limited to retail businesses. We coached some folks from Scotland who work on an oil platform in the North Sea. They wanted to create a safe and fun place to work. Creative changes have become apparent in their workplace. For example, the oil workers are writing their own musical safety messages. Using tapes and CDs and an occasional live performance from an inspired oil worker, they take turns producing safety tips. Now, everyone stops working for five minutes and listens to the song for the day to hear the witty way it ties into the daily safety tip. They have also improved safety. In an environment where 30 days with no accidents is a big deal, they worked 218 days without an accident, which is completely unheard of in their industry. It’s so far out of the current paradigm that other platforms have accused them of cheating. They also had an unbelievable increase in productivity. They were able to go from the usual two weeks to 88 days with zero mechanical breakdowns, setting another major record. This paradigm shift is of enormous significance to the future of business and organizations around the world. We believe it’s on the same order of magnitude as globalization. It’s similar to flat earth beings re-inventing themselves to be round earth beings. It’s shifting from Newton to Einstein, from classical mechanics to chaos theory. It’s really a major paradigm shift here. Companies that have access to what I call the Technology of Transformation, i.e., those who are incorporating the dimensions of being and creativity, are truly light-years ahead of those whose concept of people remains stuck in the old mechanical worldview. Now, after 15 years, the results are in. Coming from our intentions for World Famous Pike Place Fish, we’ve now demonstrated what becomes possible when employees are truly empowered. We’ve shown what happens when you create a purpose for your organization that you and your people see as a mighty one. We’ve shown that people can intentionally create the future and do it in a way that makes a difference for everyone. But the vision isn’t done with us. Sometimes I think it’s alive. It seems to grow and evolve continuously. Now the vision seems to be calling us to seek new avenues, new possibilities. It’s the challenge that every business faces. It’s the challenge that we bring to you in your business: to set your intentions, to declare your vision, and to commit to being and creativity as you serve your clients and customers. You can create your own future through personal commitment to your vision. Take charge and create your destiny, watch it unfold before your eyes. Readers may contact John Yokoyama at email@example.com; to reach Jim Bergquist, send messages to firstname.lastname@example.org. __________________ Retailing Issues Letter, November 2001, Vol. 13, No. 6, co-published by Andersen and the Center for Retailing Studies at Texas A&M University.