Why Fish Philosophy Works

Pikes Place, a fish market in Seattle, is known for its fun style of business. They toss fish around as if they were footballs.

They have a sign that says, “Caution: Low Flying Fish.” Any business that has a sign about low flying product must be having fun. The employees love working there because they are engaged and willing to “ham” it up. The allow people to have fun and hire people according to their superpowers. They make sure that their employees are excited about creating a great experience.

People from all over visit this historic place to buy fish and watch the show. So it also attracts customers who are looking to buy quality fish and have a fun experience.

Do you want to retain your best employees and have more fun at work? You should probably check out the first 6 modules of the Work Happy Now Emergency Kit. It has three main sections: team building ideas, games you can play with your co-workers, and how to create a more positive attitude.


Everybody wins!

John Christensen noticed the magic at Pike’s Place and created a documentary called “Fish!” which then spawned the book Fish Philosophy. There are four main concepts that Fish Philosophy focuses on. They are…

Be There

An employee who is engaged in his/her work isn’t concerned about anything, but the job at hand. They are there to do good work. It’s hard to put ourselves in the moment, but the more we can get lost in the work the more fun it is.

“It means getting out of your own ‘world’ so you can BE THERE for someone else. It means setting aside emotional baggage from the past, and worries about the future in order to appreciate the opportunities you have available to you, right now.”

– Fish Philosophy handout

Choose Your Attitude

What we choose to focus on will determine how we feel. If all we do is complain about making more money or wanting a better boss, we are creating a negative mindset. If we choose to focus on our wonderful co-workers and how we enjoy the work that we do, we are choosing to see the positive in our situation.

“Most of us believe our attitudes are caused directly by outside influences like unpleasant experiences or negative people. But while external pressures may trigger our feelings, we are the ones wearing those feelings like a suit of clothes. We can either be subservient to external events, few of which we have any control over, or we can take charge of our own response.”

Fish Philosophy website

Make Their Day

We talk about the importance of gratitude on this site, specifically giving gratitude to others. Gratitude makes the giver feel good as well as the person who receives the compliment. When we stop worrying about how we are going to be happy at work and focus on helping others be happy, the byproduct is that our happiness increases.

“At a deeper level, “make their day” means taking a genuine interest in the unique gifts of others. Spontaneous or planned, when you make the effort to brighten someone’s day—not because you want a reward, but because that’s the person you want to be—you receive an internal gift that makes life even more meaningful as well. No matter what, making someone’s day is a win-win. Every single time.”

Fish Philosophy website


Having fun at work is a must. If all a company does is make products and push them down people’s throats then work is a drag.

“An ‘all-business’ approach has a human cost: It’s not inspiring. We shut down emotionally and many who might make creative contributions keep that part of themselves at home.”

– Fish Philosophy handout

Fish Philosophy and Work Happiness Go Hand in Hand

When we work in the now (Be There), stop complaining and start noticing the good in our lives (Choose Attitude), recognize the importance of giving gratitude (Make their Day), and have fun at work (Play), then we are creating a work life that makes us happy.

And we all know happy employees give the best results.


As you know employee engagement is so important to creating an environment that supports employees emotional needs, so check out David Zinger’s blog that focuses on creating more engaged employees.


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11 thoughts on “Why Fish Philosophy Works”

  1. I really like the combo of choose your attitude and play.

    Your attitude sets you up and then play helps you unleash your potential and bump up against limits, and sometimes just hop the wall without breaking a sweat.

  2. Just wanted to say I read your blogs many mornings and they often give me that extra jolt I need to help adjust my perspective and make the workday that much brighter. Appreciate your words of positivity and motivation.

  3. I think it works if a company is actually committed to the idea. One of my previous employers “implemented” the Fish philosophy but they were not committed. It was just a PR stunt and insulted the intelligence of the employees.

  4. Hi Laurie, it’s all about mixing everything together and making it happen. It will take time to change the culture, but it’s worth it.

    Hi Mark, glad to help.

    Hi J.D., great way of putting it. I’m going to use that quote some time.

    Hi Como, you are making me blush. Thank you for letting me know. I love compliments like the Cookie Monster loves cookies.

    Hi Sabrina, great point. We have to believe in the philosophy or it will never work. That means keeping track of it’s progress and making changes to fit the organization.

  5. When we do all of those things we not only have a good work life, we have a good LIFE all around!

    As Sabrina said, companies have to be committed and really allow employees to work this way in order for it to work.

  6. Someone once said “Do what you love or learn to love what you do”. I take it that the Fish Philosopy is about the second part. If you have to do it anyway, might as well find a way to find some meaning in it and enjoy the process.

  7. Hey everyone!
    Great to see a well-rounded discussion of the philosphy here. I agree with Sabrina, to a point. Using FISH! as PR for the company actually has the opposite of it’s intended effect. It cannot be forced or mandated – that is a good way to “flush” your FISH! effort.

    Any philosophy, by it’s very nature is an invitation. The key here is to motivate people towards something they have always secretly thought was possible – a rewarding and fufilling workplace.

    The company can make the investment and say, “We are going to try this.” That, for practical reasons, has to happen. But after that decision is made, the power of the philosophy really exists with the employees. Are they willing to try something new? Are they willing to change behaviors and habits?

    FISH! will have an effect on individuals that embrace it, whether the organization is committed or not. But it takes a critical mass of individuals to embrace that change to create organizational change.

    Make your personal choice and remember that your attitude and appraoch to work is infectious. Do they want to catch what you’ve got?

    Jay Larson
    Prophet of Possibilities at ChartHouse Learning, the creator’s of The FISH! Philosophy.

  8. Fantastic. This is how ever business should be. Why not have fun. Does it mean the job wont get down. No it does not. Some managers should be put out to pasture, as they have seen better days and I might add this is not an ageist comment rather an attitude.

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