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The FISH! Philosophy is a set of work/life practices created by ChartHouse Learning, commonly used to improve what is referred to as the "culture" of an organization. The concepts were inspired by observing the work culture at Seattle's Pike Place Fish Market. The four practices (Be There, Play, Make Their Day and Choose Your Attitude) were first related in a best-selling video released in 1998, followed by a series of training videos and books. This way of acting helps make people more productive.
On a visit to Seattle in 1997, John Christensen, owner of ChartHouse Learning, observed how happy and playful the employees at Seattle's Pike Place Fish Market were in their work. They filled orders by flinging fish to each other, generating laughter from the customers. Employees would often invite customers to join the fun. They gave their complete attention to each customer and ensured each had an enjoyable visit.
Christensen noticed the actual work of selling fish was repetitive, cold and exhausting. It occurred to him that the fishmongers might not enjoy every part of their job but they chose to bring joy to how they approached it. They also sold a lot of fish. He asked the fishmongers if he could film them and they agreed. When Christensen and his team examined the footage, they identified four simple practices anyone could apply to their work and life.
ChartHouse Learning called these concepts The FISH! Philosophy. The official definitions of these practices are:
Be There: When people need you, they need all of you. Setting aside distractions and judgments to be mentally and emotionally present is a sign of respect. It improves communication and strengthens relationships.
Play: You can be serious about your work without taking yourself so seriously. Play is a mindset more than a specific activity. It allows you to throw yourself with enthusiasm and creativity into whatever you are doing, in a way that is natural, not forced. "Playing” with ideas helps you find solutions to everyday challenges.
Make Their Day: Simple gestures of thoughtfulness, thanks and recognition make people feel appreciated and valued. When you make someone else feel good, you feel good too.
Choose Your Attitude: To actually choose how you respond to life, not just react, you must be intentional. When you get up, decide who you want to "be" today. Moment-to-moment awareness is key. Ask yourself throughout the day, "What is my attitude right now? Is it helping the people who depend on me? Is it helping me to be most effective?"
These practices were first explored in the video, FISH!, released in 1998. The video was translated into 18 languages and spawned a series of spin-off books, including Fish! A Remarkable Way to Boost Morale and Improve Results which has been translated into 34 languages.
Many organizations have used The FISH! Philosophy language to guide how they approach work.
Ranken Jordan Pediatric Specialty Hospital in St. Louis has four FISH! banners, one for each practice, hanging in its lobby as a symbol of its commitment to patients, parents and visitors. The staff uses the philosophy as a reminder to thank and recognize each other. Ranken Jordan's patient/parent satisfaction is above 95 percent and its employee retention above 97 percent.
Tile Tech, a roofing company in Tacoma, WA, focused on being there for each other to increase awareness of safety hazards, decreasing its injury rate by 50%.
Rochester Ford Toyota in Rochester, MN, known for tough negotiating, shifted to a fixed price and an emphasis on making the customer's day. New car sales doubled and it recorded a 30% rise in customer satisfaction.
Sprint call center in Lenexa, KS, used Play to make the job more fun. Employees selected music for common areas and the dress code was relaxed. Managers worked to Be There by asking employees for their ideas on improving the business. Four-year productivity rose 20% and first-year employee retention increased 25%.
K-12 education use
Educators use The FISH! Philosophy to build supportive relationships with students and help students practice personal responsibility. Both are keys in creating effective classrooms, according to research.
Barb Stoflet of Minnetonka, MN, winner of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching, introduces the practices to her students at the start of each year, inviting them to join her, as partners, in living them. "I'm able to spend my day teaching because the kids take care of the management," she says.
"It's hard to be a bully if you're focused on making someone else's day," says principal Candace Call, who introduced the philosophy at several at-risk schools in Asheboro, NC. After she brought FISH! to Southmont Elementary, test scores increased 31 percent in writing and almost 20 percent in reading and math.
The St. Tammany Parish Public Schools near New Orleans uses FISH! with its Positive Behavior Interventions & Supports (PBIS) program. “We’ve spent years punishing inappropriate behavior, often ineffectively," says behavior specialist Tamarah Myers. "It's more effective to teach and reinforce a replacement behavior. For us, that behavior is the FISH! Philosophy. It builds social competency at all ages.”
Summer Camp Use
Surprise Lake camp  has been using this way to help make the camp better for the campers. At the camp we interpret the philosophy to help be better staff members.
Some people apply language of The FISH! Philosophy to their personal lives, especially to be attentive to family and friends. Shannon Caylor, a chiropractor, says the philosophy helped her deal with the pain of divorce by reminding her to concentrate on the present, not the past.
Mark Block, of Ankeny, IA, who suffered a traumatic brain injury in 2009, uses the four FISH! practices in his rehabilitation. "I choose an attitude of thankfulness and appreciation for the abilities I do have," he says.
To grasp just how presumptuous Fish! really is, just try a thought experiment: imagine management’s reaction if the circumstances were reversed. Imagine the bosses’ reaction if you and your coworkers matter-of-factly announced that, henceforth, you would be working at a slower pace for the same amount of money, or that you would be receiving a higher hourly wage. Imagine telling the boss "you can’t do anything about these changes, but you can choose to have a good attitude about them!" My guess is your boss would demonstrate in short order that he does have control over events, and that it’s not his attitude that has to be adjusted. That’s because, while you may be powerless, your bosses most certainly are not.
This asymmetrical power relationship is implicit in Fish! Philosophy. And you’d better believe that the people who push it are fully aware of their agenda. [...] They are the ones who do things. We are the ones that things are done to. Learn to enjoy it, or else. That’s the message of Fish! Philosophy.
- . Charthouser Learning http://www.charthouse.com/content.aspx?nodeid=22610. Retrieved 14 November 2013. Missing or empty
- . Charthouse Learnin http://www.charthouse.com/assets/library/fishAdSlick_29160.pdf. Retrieved 14 November 2013. Missing or empty
- ChartHouse Learning. FISH! Culture Facilitator's Guide. 2007. p. 29-30
- What is FISH!
- ChartHouse Learning, It's a Way Not a Day leader guide, page 6.
- Lundin, Stephen C., John Christensen and Harry Paul, with Philip Strand. FISH! Tales. Real-Life Stories to Help You Transform Your Workplace and Your Life. Hyperion, 2002. p.122-123.
- Testimonials (Rochester Ford Toyota)
- Testimonials (Sprint)
- YouTube: One of the best years in teaching
- FISH!-ing for Positive Behavior
- Surprise Lake Camp, Surprise Lake Camp
- ChartHouse Learning. FISH! Culture Facilitator's Guide, 2007. p. 108
- Carson, Kevin A. Organization Theory: A Libertarian Perspective. BookSurge Publishing. p. 275. ISBN 978-1-4392-2199-0. See also the online version of his FISH! critique.
- Carson, p. 277.