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.

How We Use “Fish!” the Video

“Did you know you can dance with that broom?” my granddad asked. I was five years old and struggling. I was cleaning the sidewalk in front of my dad’s auto parts store with a push broom but I was sweeping kitchen-broom style. He then showed me how to dance with a push broom and went back into the shop. Ten minutes or so later, he emerged to inspect my progress. Seeing that his dancing lesson had taken hold he asked me if that just wasn’t a lot more fun. My smile and nodding head brought forward his real lesson to me: “When you grow up, you should always try to find a job where they pay you not to work.” My granddad’s lesson popped into my head when I first saw the video “Fish!” three years ago. Five minutes into it and I knew I’d found a missing link to my organizational development training activities. Because the four simple concepts or principles presented by the video can be found as vital connective tissue for virtually any organizational effectiveness initiative, I’ve sketched a “fishbone” chart to offer a quick illustration of what I mean.

  1. Play.
  2. Make their day.
  3. Be there.
  4. Choose your attitude.

These can serve as an effective springboard for a host of training and strategic designs or interventions. A warning: While these concepts encapsulate the success of Pike Place Fish Market, if not used in the spirit of the concepts themselves, the result may well be as foul as week-old fish.

Fishcamp is born

Charthouse International, the producers of “Fish!” asked a bunch of us early-adopter consultants to help them expand on what they thought would be a particularly successful way of introducing the four “Fish!” concepts to an organization.

The result, Fishcamp, is an event made up of a series of interactive exercises designed to introduce participants (campers) to the four concepts, which the video producers extracted while editing their documentary about the Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle. We were encouraged as practitioners to adapt Fishcamp to fit our particular practice and client needs.

Our version of Fishcamp varies from one to four days depending upon the assessed and/or negotiated needs of the organization. A one-day simply introduces the ideas contained in the video and gets the participants started on their own initiative without follow up by us. At the other end of the spectrum we use Fishcamp as an approach to organizational transformation. We use a four-day Fishcamp, for example, as an intense introduction to the principles of interest-based decision making for labor and management negotiators who have realized that their organization’s long-term success requires a complete paradigm shift in how they do business throughout the organization, not just at the bargaining table. (For an elaboration on interest-based decision making, please see my earlier articles in this publication.) Combined with required follow-up sessions, organization-wide trainings, and internal capacity building to sustain the initiative, this four-day version seems to have had lasting impact.

We think the multi-week or months-long training academies for middle managers and supervisors could use the Fishcamp concept as a skeleton upon which to hang their entire curriculum.


Almost a Fishcamp—“Fish!” the video can be used to introduce executive, middle, and line staff in a conventional bureaucratic organization to a more interactive decision making model. Viewing the video inevitably causes change-hungry employees of all stripes to ask, “What do you do when you want to do business differently, but your co-workers, supervisor(s), or executive managers don’t?”

We establish the context for our answer to this question by introducing a systemic rather than mechanical metaphor of an organization. The four concepts presented in the video serve to illustrate the base-level interactions that enable an organization to thrive or not. We have included a tree diagram, developed as part of a training segment, to illustrate this metaphor:

  • The fruit references the outcomes realized.
  • The leaves illustrate a desirable working environment.
  • The trunk/branches/twigs illustrate the ubiquitous structural tissue.
  • The roots stand for the basic principles or statements of “ought” presented in every situation.

As an aside—the beauty of the tree metaphor is that it can be used to illustrate the realities of an open system. It’s all quite quantum, don’t you think?
In our longer versions of Fishcamp, we use this metaphor as our nature hike with each component of the training exploring a different aspect of the metaphor. By the time that Fishcamp is concluded and the campers are packing their duffle bags (a Fish memory aid) each has their own graphic much like the one seen here. It takes all four days to completely illustrate the metaphor/graphic.

Smelly fish?

What’s the wrong way to use the “Fish!” video? You walk into someone’s office and say, “Here, watch this video. You need to change.” Probably without describing it you already understand how the video can be (is being) used as a weapon.

Usually without intending to do harm, an uninformed supervisor or manager spots the video, borrows a copy from HR or the training department, throws it in the VCR at the first staff meeting they’ve had in six months, and admonishes the troops to do things like they do in the video, turns off the television, and ends the meeting. Having their worst suspicions confirmed (again), the employees continue to flee, soldier along, maliciously comply, or sabotage. The supervisor, continuing to rely upon fewer people skills than God gave a goat, goes on certain that “I tried, but they are hopeless.”

We’ve seen and heard about this version of how people have used the “Fish!” video both from the disappointed supervisors who’ve tried it and employee victims who’ve experienced it.

I’ve no doubt that had my granddad simply scorned and scolded my nascent efforts with the push broom, told me how to do it, and marched off that I would not to this day, 50 years later, enjoy dancing with a broom.

STEVE BARBER’S resume confirms that perhaps without realizing it he followed his granddad’s advice: bowling alley pin setter, cowboy, firefighter, fruit picker, truck driver, oil worker, auto mechanic, machinist, teaching assistant, political campaigner and subterranean politico, race car driver, executive, entrepreneur, college instructor, pilot, wooden sailboat skipper, and now a consultant and trainer. You can reach Steve and his Barber and Gonzales colleagues (fellow camp counselors) at .

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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