ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

Online Edition - February 2002


Issue Highlight — Refusal as a Doorway to Commitment
Can saying no be the first step to yes? Refusal as a Doorway to Commitment is the provocative subject of Peter Block's One From Column B in this issue.

Behind Pike Place Fish: A Conversation With Jim Bergquist

When those attending AQP’s Spring Conference in Las Vegas, March 11-13, catch their breath after listening to and watching John Yokoyama and Jim Bergquist talk about the world famous fish-throwing, customer-delighting team of Pike Place Fish Market, many will wonder: What’s really behind all that fun and profit—how’d they do that?” We wondered too, so we decided to have a talk with the former musician and Hunger Project volunteer manager, Jim Bergquist, and ask for you: “How’d you do that?”

NFC: Before I ask you, “How’d you do what you did with John Yokoyama?” can you tell me how did you get connected with John Yokoyama to begin with?

Bergquist: Pike Place Fish? OK. My wife used to work at the Pike Place Market and knew John Yokoyama. That was around 1986. She also knew John’s wife, Diane. She heard they were having trouble with their store, so she called John and suggested that maybe I could help him out. So we had a meeting and I basically told him that he was thinking too small. He could survive, if he created a bigger vision, a bigger context. I asked him to commit himself to that. At first he said, “No, I can’t do it right now. I can’t afford the consulting, I’m having trouble.” And we talked it over and I showed him how it was actually the right time to do it. He agreed and we set it up on a trial basis for three months. He committed for three months—it’s now 15 years later and we’re still working together.

NFC: So, I promised the readers I’d ask, “How’d you do that with the fish guys?” What took place during those first three months? When and how did things begin to change?

Bergquist: The way we set it up from the very beginning was that I’d work with him one day a week every other week. On the off weeks we’d do crew meetings together. Part of my intention was to train him to lead his own crew meetings and coach his own people.

NFC: So your profile in the business was low—you were working with John—training John—and pretty much in the background?

Bergquist: Right. I have a commitment to have a company succeed, not me, I’m a coach. I stand in the background and I coach them on being great. I’m not on their playing field. I’ve got my own playing field.

NFC: What drew you to this kind of work, coaching and consulting?

Bergquist: I don’t have traditional qualifications. I was a professional musician for 20 years. Played rhythm and blues, jazz, and rock ‘n’ roll.

NFC: What changed your direction? The need to make a “regular” living—what?

Bergquist: I got involved in the Hunger Project in the 1970s. It is a United Nations NGO (non-governmental organization) whose vision and commitment is to end hunger in the world. They have a particular approach that is very, very powerful in organizing and causing people to take action.

They have a management style that is more about inspiring people’s commitment than trying to motivate them. It’s a little different approach. So I was very turned on by all that.

I got pretty good with this particular approach. Some time later, a consulting firm asked if I’d like to go to work for them because I had this particular thing I could contribute, this particular style. I had never participated in business per se, but I went on a couple of appointments with them and my reaction was, “Oh, yeah, I can do this,” as a matter of fact, “I got some things I can show you guys.” So that’s how I got into it. I worked for them a couple of years then started my own business in 1983.

NFC: How would you describe how you work with vision and your principles?

Bergquist: I work with people at the “level of being”; that is working with people on who they are being, the way in which they are constituting their reality. Working within this paradigm, I’ve distinguished some underlying principles.

The Principle of Personal Power says, you’re it, you are the whole thing. It’s the power of personal responsibility, meaning that you’re willing to look at things from the point of view that you are personally responsible for your own experience of the world. It means to operate in your job as if you are the source of what is happening. It’s based on the insight that groups of people don’t create, only individuals create.

NFC: Structurally it enables them to see what’s going on from a different view?

Bergquist: The whole point is to start people expanding their awareness about who they are and then how that relates to their work and the people they are working with. That’s when we start having a conversation about creating the future.

I usually make a big deal out of the future from the future as opposed to the kind of future that is one actually located in the past. We ask the question, if you tell the truth about the future, what do you have to say? What’s the truth about the future. The truth about the future is nobody knows. It’s totally unknown.

NFC: How did this work with John Yokoyama and his crew?

Bergquist: With the fish guys we were having this conversation about who do you want to be. What do you want to create. Coming from really nothing, coming from the past, coming from the unknown, create something that’s inspiring to you. And this kid says, “Let’s be world famous.”

NFC: And John went for it?

Bergquist: He was willing to go for it.

NFC: It must have been quite a surprise when he found out he was the one who was actually getting in his own way and that he was just missing some “tools”?

Bergquist: I get really inspired when I see people intentionally making things happen in the world. Especially if it’s stuff where they’re committed to making a difference for other people.

NFC: Is that your vision?

Bergquist: Very much so. What inspires me is to support people to open up their world to show them their own power so they can go out and make a difference in the world.

NFC: That’s why you’re here?

Bergquist: Yep.

NFC: When did you discover that?

Bergquist: When I worked for the Hunger Project.

NFC: When I talked with John Yokoyama he said world peace was their new vision—how does a fish market create world peace?

Bergquist: We don’t know how it’s going to happen. Just like we didn’t know how world famous was going to happen. Only that’s the nature of visions. Any time you take a stand for something new, it reconceptualizes, reinterprets, and starts to reorder the circumstances surrounding the particular situation.

The fish guys were on TV, I think it was last March…on “CBS Sunday Morning.” They showed them at the Fish Market. They showed them doing a presentation with a local company. They had a shot of John at the very end of this event they were doing and he was sharing with people about Pike Place Fish’s new vision. It was spontaneous.

NFC: Still, this has to be quite a challenge for them?

Bergquist: We have meetings every two weeks where we talk about this stuff. We set up practical games for them to play at work to actually practice causing things to happen. So this particular group of guys, they actually know that they make a difference. They know they can make things happen.

NFC: Can you explain a bit about that?

Bergquist: What we discovered is that when you come up with a vision, you’ve got to translate it into some kind of game. Because, unless you have a game, you can’t have a team. No game, no team. You’ve got to make it fun and it’s got to be something that’s doable. It can’t be impossible. These guys played monthly games. Actually, they played daily games. Every day they’ve got a game going. But they have a monthly game and they like to win. They don’t like to lose. They take it very personally.

NFC: Sales goals?

Bergquist: They’re out to make a profit. They’re very tuned in to the cost of doing business.

NFC: What are some other aspects of their game?

Bergquist: They’re very committed to making a difference for people just in the daily interactions with people, whether or not they buy fish is actually kind of secondary. It’s interesting that they sell an awful lot of fish. That little fish market is 1200 square feet and you’d be very hard pressed to find any business anywhere square footage-wise that does more than these guys do. It’s amazing.

NFC: Let me ask one final question… about vision. It’s really something that’s not propelling then, it’s more like a pulling. It pulls at them out of the future?

Bergquist: I think it occurs different ways at different times. Sometimes it occurs that way where this big thing is literally pulling you out of bed and putting on your shoes in the morning. It does occur that way sometimes. Sometimes when it’s really good, the way it occurs is that you are the walking, talking, breathing expression of that possibility. And around you, that’s what shows up. And it’s very natural. You don’t even have to work at it. It’s effortless. What that means is being who you said you are. Be the walking, talking, and breathing vision. Look the part, think the part, and feel like it. You invent yourself. You constitute yourself as that.

NFC: That’s when you get into being?

Bergquist: That’s what we call being world famous.

NFC: Thanks, Jim, for all of us.

Jim Bergquist has been an executive coach, meeting facilitator, and course leader for more than 20 years. In 1983, he founded BizFutures Consulting Company, a Seattle-based firm that specializes in cultural transformation. He began coaching John Yokoyama and his Pike Place Fish Market 15 years ago.

Note: See below for the four underlying principles Bergquist uses in his work.

Four key principles used by Jim Bergquist with Pike Place Fish and others:

The principle of personal power
It says that basically, you’re it, you are the whole thing. It means to operate in your job as if you are the source of what is happening. It’s based on the insight that groups of people don’t create—only individuals create. Of course, they can create with others, but the point is that only individuals have the power to choose.

The principle of co-creation
This means you find yourself operating in a state of personal power with other people who are also acting out of their sense of personal power, and you find yourself aligned with them on some common purpose or vision. At this point, you see the emergence of extraordinary teams of inspired people, performing at a whole new level of competence and productivity and having fun doing it.

The principle of creating a vision of power and possibility
A vision of power and possibility generates an environment that allows people to be creative, even when things seem to be going wrong. It creates a new context for the existing set of circumstances and allows people to see them in the light of the vision.

The principle of allowing for discontinuous results
Outcomes and events evolve that you haven’t brought about in the usual cause and effect way. People and circumstances will transform. You actually have to create the room for breakthroughs to happen at a rate faster than you’re used to.

February 2002 News for a Change Homepage

In This Issue...
The World of Patch Adams and Gesundheit!
Behind Pike Place Fish: A Conversation With Jim Bergquist
How We Use “Fish!” the Video

Teamwork at the Ground Zero Cleanup
Thriving Through Teamwork

Peter Block Column

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