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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
NFC: When did you discover that?
Bergquist: When I worked for the Hunger
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
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
NFC: Sales goals?
Bergquist: They’re out to make a
profit. They’re very tuned in to the cost of doing
NFC: What are some other aspects of their
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
Bergquist: That’s what we call being
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
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
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
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
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