A Proven Way to Boost Morale and Improve Results


By Stephen C. Lundin, PhD

By John Christensen

By Harry Paul

By Ken Blanchard

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The powerful parable that has helped millions to see their lives and work in a new way — now revised and updated to celebrate 20 years of working with greater purpose!

It’s a rainy day in Seattle, and on the third floor of First Guarantee Financial, people have stopped believing they can make a difference. To new manager Mary Jane Ramirez, the challenge of bringing life back to her unenthusiastic and unmotivated team seems impossible — until she discovers an incredibly successful workplace down the street, where the employees are so alive and passionate that people stop just to watch them work!

FISH! is the remarkable story of what happens when Mary Jane seeks the help of these unlikely business “experts” and learns their secret: four simple practices that, when applied daily, help anyone to be more energized, effective, and fulfilled.

Filled with inspiration and timeless wisdom that will resonate with anyone in any field or career level, FISH! is one of the most popular business parables of all time. People in organizations around the world use its practical lessons to improve customer service, build trust and teamwork, bolster leadership, and increase employee satisfaction. They also use the lessons to strengthen personal relationships, and to live with greater purpose and happiness. FISH! will help you discover the amazing power that is already inside you to make a positive difference — wherever you are in life.


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Twenty years of FISH!

The book FISH! A Remarkable Way to Boost Morale and Improve Results was published in 2000. And over the last two decades organizations and individuals around the globe have been drawing on the FISH! Philosophy to solve issues around leadership, culture, change, morale, engagement, and energy. When we began, our best example of the FISH! Philosophy was the world-famous Pike Place Fish Market. We now have tens of thousands of examples from over one hundred countries.

And we’re just getting started.

If you want to see FISH! in action, take a look at companies such as Google, Southwest Airlines, and Zappos. FISH! has had an amazing motivating influence on the culture of a broad spectrum of businesses both large and small in both the public and private sector, from health care to education, tech to hospitality.

FISH! fans say, I don’t have to go to work, I get to go to work.” By creating workplaces where people go to work and give and be their best, FISH! has helped organizations see an immeasurable increase in productivity, creativity, and energy leading to more profitability along with increased retention and reduced tardiness and absenteeism. According to the emails and comments we have received at talks and workshops, FISH! has not just inspired new levels of success in every kind of organization, but it has also inspired people to improve their relationships with spouses, partners, parents, and children. Success is all about the choices we make: to choose our attitude, to live life with lightheartedness, to be present with one another, and to have people happy to see us. FISH! has reminded people of things they intuitively knew but were not practicing.

The concept for the book started more than two decades ago with the world-famous Pike Place Fish Market, which has since become a metaphor for what an energized, fun, and successful organization might look like. At Pike Place, we found that the employees had chosen to be “world-famous” and created one of the most profitable retail spaces in the United States. How did they do it? Well, it was a process, which involved discovering and living out the behaviors and philosophies that we have collected in this book. But one important question that anyone can take from their success is that if a bunch of fishmongers in an outdoor fish market in Seattle could build an energized, fun, successful workplace, what’s stopping you?

Over the years we have enjoyed an enormous sense of fulfillment from the stories we have heard of how the FISH! Philosophy has impacted both individuals and organizations. The variety of experiences is amazing. For instance, we received feedback on how Fish! had a positive impact on a North Sea Oil Platform, how it helped a teacher become more effective, and how the book was critical in saving a marriage.

In the revised and expanded edition of FISH! that you now hold, published on the twentieth anniversary of its initial release, we have supplemented this classic business bestseller with new stories about how the FISH! Philosophy has empowered leaders in the years since the book’s publication as well as with an all-new guide for implementing the FISH! Philosophy on any team. We hope that these new stories and tools help inspire people to collaborate more effectively for years to come.

The legacy of FISH! lives on through this book, the video and training materials, and most of all it lives on through you, our readers. Because of you, Choose Your Attitude, Play, and Be There and Make Their Day have become part of the world’s lexicon for boosting morale and achieving results!

Thank You!

Stephen Lundin, Harry Paul,
and John Christensen

March 2020

It was a wet, cold, dark, dreary, dismal Monday in Seattle, inside and out. The best the meteorologist on Channel 4 could offer was a possible break in the clouds around noon. On days like this Mary Jane Ramirez missed Southern California.

What a roller coaster, she thought, as her mind retraced the past three years. Dan, her husband, had received a great offer from Microrule, and she had been confident she could find a job once they relocated. In just four short weeks they had given notice, packed, moved, and found great day care for their young children, Brad and Stacy. Their house hit the Los Angeles housing market just at the right time and sold immediately. True to her confidence, Mary Jane quickly found a supervisory position in the operations area of First Guarantee Financial, one of Seattle’s largest financial institutions.

Dan loved his job at Microrule. When he came home at night he was bursting with energy and full of stories about what a great company it was and the advanced work they were doing. Dan and Mary Jane would frequently put the children to bed and talk well into the evening. As excited as Dan was about his new company, he was always just as interested in Mary Jane’s day, wanting to know about her new colleagues and the challenges she was facing in her work life. Anyone watching would easily guess that they were best friends. The spirit of each shone in the presence of the other.

They planned their move to Seattle with great care, anticipating every possible contingency but one. Twelve months after relocating, Dan was rushed to the hospital with a burst aneurysm—“a genetic oddity,” they called it—and he died of internal bleeding, never regaining consciousness. There was no warning and no time to say good-bye.

That was two years ago this month. We weren’t even in Seattle a full year.

Stopping in mid-thought, with memories flooding her mind, Mary Jane felt a surge of emotion well up inside her. She caught herself. This is not the time to think about my personal life; the workday is less than half over, and I’m swamped with work.

First Guarantee Financial

During her three years at First Guarantee, Mary Jane had developed a great reputation as a “can-do” supervisor. She wasn’t the first to arrive or the last to leave, but she was extremely productive and efficient.

She was also a good person to work for. She always listened closely to the concerns and ideas of her staff and was well liked and respected in return. It wasn’t uncommon for her to cover for someone with a sick child or important appointment. And, as a working manager, she led her department in production. She did this in an easygoing way that rarely generated any tension. Her direct reports and associates enjoyed working with and for her. Mary Jane’s small group developed a reputation as a team you could count on.

In sharp contrast, there was a large operations group on the third floor that was often the topic of conversation for the opposite reason. Words like unresponsive, entitlement, zombie, unpleasant, slow, wasteland, and negative were used frequently to describe this group. It was the group everyone loved to hate. Unfortunately for the company, nearly every department needed to interact with the third floor since they processed most of First Guarantee’s transactions. Everyone dreaded any contact with the operations group.

Supervisors swapped stories about the latest fiasco on the third floor. Those who visited the third floor described it as a place so dead that it sucked the life right out of you. Mary Jane remembered the laughter when one of the other managers said that he deserved a Nobel Prize. When she asked what he meant, he said, “I think I may have discovered life on the third floor.” Everyone roared.

Then, much to her surprise, a few weeks later, Mary Jane was offered a promotion to manager of the operations group on the third floor of First Guarantee, a job she cautiously and somewhat reluctantly accepted. While the company had great hopes for her, she had major reservations about her new position. She had been comfortable in her present job—and her willingness to take risks had been much higher before Dan’s death. The group she had been supervising had been with her during the rough days after Dan’s death, and she had felt a strong bond with them. It would be hard to leave people who had shared so much of themselves during such dark times.

Mary Jane was acutely aware of the terrible reputation of the third floor. In fact, if it hadn’t been for all of the unforeseen expenses of Dan’s hospitalization, she probably would have turned down the promotion and pay raise. So here she was, on the infamous third floor: the third person to have the job in the last two years.

The Third Floor

Thank God it’s Friday, Mary Jane thought as she looked at her email inbox. Five weeks into the job, she still struggled to understand the work and the people on the third floor. While mildly surprised that she liked many of the people who worked on three, she had quickly realized that the third floor deserved its reputation. She had observed Bob, a five-year veteran on the third floor, letting the phone ring seven times before purposely breaking the connection by unplugging the cord. She had overheard Martha describing how she handled those in the company who “hassled” her to do her processing faster—she deleted their emails “by mistake.” Every time Mary Jane went into the break room there was someone dozing at the table.

Most mornings the phones rang unanswered for ten to fifteen minutes after the official start of the day because the staff was still arriving. When questioned, the excuses were both abundant and lame. Everything was in slow motion. It was clear that the “zombie” description of the third floor was definitely deserved. Mary Jane did not have a clue what to do, only the knowledge and conviction that she must do something and do it soon.

That night after the kids were asleep, she had tried to work out her situation by writing in her journal:

It may have been cold and dreary outside today, but the view from my internal office window made dreary sound like a compliment. There was no energy there. At times I find it hard to believe there are living human beings on three. It takes a baby shower or a wedding for anyone to come alive. They never get excited about anything that’s actually happening at work.

I have thirty employees for whom I am responsible and for the most part they do a slow, short day’s work for a low day’s pay. Many of them have done the same slow day’s work in the same way for years and are totally bored. They seem to be good people, but whatever spark they may have once had, they have lost. The culture of the department is such a powerful and depressing force that new people quickly lose their spark as well. When I walk among the cubicles it feels like all the oxygen has been sucked right out of the air. I can hardly breathe.

Last week I discovered four clerks who were still not using the new software installed here two years ago. They said they liked doing it the old way. I wonder how many other surprises are in store for me.

I suppose many back-room operations are like this. Not much here to get excited about, just lots of transactions that need to be processed. But it doesn’t have to be like this. I must find a way to convey how crucial our work is to the company. Our work allows others to serve the company’s customers.

Although our work may be a critical part of the big picture, it happens behind the scenes and is basically taken for granted. It’s an invisible part of the organization and would never appear on the company’s radar screen if it wasn’t so bad. And believe me, it is bad.

It is not a love for this work that brings any of us to this department. I’m not the only person with money problems on this floor. Many of the women and one of the men are also single parents. Jack’s ailing father just moved in with him. Bonnie and her husband now have two grandchildren as full-time residents. The big three are why we are here: salary, security, and benefits.

Mary Jane pondered the last sentence she had written in her journal. Back-room operations had always been lifetime positions. The pay was adequate, and the jobs were secure. When she arrived at the office Monday morning, she looked at the rows of cubicles and desks outside her office, and began to formulate some questions. “Does my staff know that the security they cherish might be just an illusion? Do they realize the extent to which market forces are reshaping this industry? Do they understand that we will all need to change in order for this company to compete in a rapidly consolidating financial services market? Are they aware that if we don’t change we will eventually find ourselves looking for other employment?”


On Sale
Mar 10, 2020
Page Count
160 pages
Hachette Go

Stephen C. Lundin, PhD

About the Author

Stephen C. Lundin, Ph.D., is a filmmaker, graduate business school professor, and professional speaker. He runs a corporate membership seminar series as part of the Institute for Management Studies and leads the Institute for Creativity and Innovation at the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis. He lives in Minnesota.

Harry Paul is currently a full time motivational speaker. He lives in San Diego.

John Christensen, an award-winning filmmaker, lives is Minneapolis. He is now CEO of ChartHouse Learning Corporation, the leading producer of corporate learning films, including Fish!, the video, which has been adopted by thousands of corporations nationwide. He lives in Minnesota.

Learn more about this author