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The world famous Pike Place Fish story A Breakthrough for Managers By John Yokoyama and Jim Bergquist
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By John Yokoyama and Jim Bergquist
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.
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 three-month trial period.John Yokoyama’s big fish story
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-a-customer” 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.The Pike Place Fish vision
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.”
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.The little fish who could
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.”
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.”Beyond the biggest fish