The Untold Story of FISH!

It has been 12 years since the release of the film FISH! and 11 years since the book was published. By now many know the basic story of the fish market that became world famous selling fish. And to this day the market remains an international tourist destination. That's right, Great Wall of China, Uluru, The Great Barrier Reef, Easter Island and Pike Place Fish.

We also know that while the market sold excellent seafood, the quality of the fish was not its distinguishing characteristic. What separated Pike Place Fish from the crowd was the customer experience. A group of fish mongers decided that if they had to be on their feet all day selling fish they might as well become world famous by being world famous moment to moment.

Over time they discovered that if they provided a fun environment, connected with people without allowing distractions to interrupt and paid attention to the attitudes they brought to the market that people would tell their friends and come back themselves. Oh, the time passed quickly, they felt good about themselves and of course, they sold a lot of fish.

It is also well known that the documentary film we produced, a film that captures the spirit of the market, is used by organisations all over the world to communicate the powerfully simple message about serving customers and creating a positive workplace for employees. FISH! has been sighted on North Sea oil platforms, in hospitals, in military training rooms, in schools, on shop floors, in churches, in prisons and jails, in banks and insurance companies and in every nook and cranny of this great world of ours. The film and the book continue to do well, 6 million in sales for the book and the film is still number one in its class today. Unfortunately, most of the stories being written by people like you go untold and unrecorded.

In fact that is the untold story; the amazing things done by those who are inspired and provoked by FISH! to try something new. I know this story exists because I've caught glimpses of it during the decade in which I visited over 50 countries speaking about FISH!. For instance, in a recent trip to New Zealand I visited a logistics company where the FISH! spirit led to massive participation in a literacy program which further reinforced the spirit. This already impressive warehouse in Auckland was transformed into a palace of hospitality that attracted potential customers who toured there. Side effects included a 70 per cent improvement in safety. If I didn't travel I would never know about these amazing examples of FISH! in action.

Recently, I have determined that the nature of leadership in highly innovative and highly FISHY places is not well documented, researched or understood. Business schools don't teach about it and no one seems to be writing about it. I would like to change that but I need locations I can research.

I believe there are important lessons to be learned by studying the leadership in places like the logistics company. As the workers who once moved around the warehouse in silence with eyes cast downward, sang songs, told their stories and buzzed with energy, I made a personal commitment to try to tell the untold story of leadership.

I often think of what is happening with FISH! as a massive natural experiment where many of the outcomes have yet to be discovered and documented. It is a natural experiment because no one is in charge and yet the FISH! Philosophy is spreading around the world on its own as individuals are provoked by the ideas and images, and decide to do something in their organisation. This untold story has much to teach us about leadership and change but I need your help to tell it.

So what is the nature of this leadership style and how is it developed? I am really not sure which is why I need help. Can you please help me find FISHY workplaces in Australia and New Zealand so I can study them and report back?

Editor's Note:
Stephen Lundin Ph.D. FAIM is the author of the multi-million copy book FISH! and the simply best selling FISH! Sticks, FISH! Tales, CATS: The Nine Lives of Innovation and Ubuntu.

He is currently Professor of Business at Griffith University in Brisbane. His research project involves studying workplaces that have been provoked by FISH! to change their way of serving customers and working together. Steve requires assistance in locating examples in Australia and New Zealand for study. If you know such a place, please send Steve an email at

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