September 23, 2015
P.R. ‘Randy’ Cooney
Publisher, Arizona Journal of Real Estate & Business
In the early 1990s, I attended a leadership transformation workshop that featured a documentary video about a successful, small fish market. After watching the video, I was so impressed with how this market turned themselves around from nearly going out of business to creating an environment that made their business soar; it became one of my life goals from that point on to visit the market. On August 17, 2015, the day finally arrived – thankfully, as the publisher of this Journal, I was granted an interview with Jim Bergquist, the business consultant who was instrumental in making this fish market “world famous.” It was surreal for me to be standing in the actual fish market after all these years. It also provided me with the opportunity to meet the very engaging staff of seven young men and watch them entertain thousands of daily visitors. The name of this market is The World’s Famous Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle, Washington. I watched fish flying through the air for over an hour and then conducted my interview with Jim Bergquist, the founder of Bizfutures. I’m happy to share my discussion with Jim below:
Jim, can you tell me when you became involved with The World’s Famous Pike Place Fish Market?
In 1986, I first met John Yokoyama, the owner of Pike Place Fish Market. John’s fish market was on the verge of going out of business – he was actually preparing to declare bankruptcy. I suggested to John that he didn’t need to do that because he had twenty years of business relationships with his vendors. Instead, I suggested he call all his vendors and just ask for some time to get caught up on paying what he owed them. I was thinking that his vendors would rather do that than get pennies on the dollar. He took my advice and they all said yes – except for one guy who wanted $50,000 right away. That was a problem for John because he was broke — so his mother-in-law came through and loaned him the money – thank God for mother-in-laws. Now, with the additional time, I trusted that together we could turn his business around.
As you started to re-structure the business, how did your first meetings go with the staff?
When I met with John and his employees, I basically challenged them to envision “possibility.” I shared with them that as humans, we naturally think inside an existing box – the box consists of what we already know. “Possibility” goes outside that box – what you haven’t thought of yet – it has to do with the willingness to NOT know. Possibility is venturing into the unknown and allows you to create things that have never even been imagined before.
“Possibility” is about creating the future, right now, by bringing that reality into the present. I asked the staff the question: up to now, what kind of a future are you currently living? The collective response was paying the bills and making a living. I explained the personal result they would receive is just that – pay their bills and just make a living. I then had the staff think of something that would inspire them to come to work every day. After some brain storming, one of the kids thought of the idea of being “world’s famous.” It seemed funny and absurd at the time – nearly everyone shrugged it off. The owner John even said “are you nuts?”
How did you get the staff on board with the possibility of becoming “world famous?”
After we stopped laughing at the concept – I said, why not? I asked the group what “world famous” meant to each one of them. The initial response was signing autographs, lots of money, girls and fancy cars. Of course that response was expected from 20-something year old guys. I brought the concept back to their realty: it’s February at 6:30 a.m., cold, rainy with no one around and you have to set up the fish market – now what would it take to be “world famous?” All agreed they needed to be like marshal artists, be to work exactly on time, set up impeccable displays prior to opening at 8:00 a.m. and be totally prepared to sell fish. Then I asked them what does “world famous” look like when people walk into you area? The staff agreed people walked by the open fish market and seemed scared – the guys felt they looked predatory in the way they sold fish. “We look like fish mongers. – instead of buying fish many people walking avoid us.” One guy went on to explain that “world famous” may be when they stop seeing people as customers and more like human beings. The group wanted to start being interested in the people, let them know it’s safe at the market and more importantly that it’s o.k. if they don’t buy fish – once they defined “world famous” they were committed to it.
How did this new attitude of “it’s o.k. if you don’t buy fish” affect sales?
The guys started to meet, welcome and have fun with the people passing by the market: they would tell jokes, take interest in the people by engaging in conversation and sometimes throw some fish around. The next thing they knew, crowds started forming in front of the fish market for the conversations, comradery, the shenanigans and the tossing of fish. The majority of people didn’t buy fish, but enough people did – the new attitude caused sales to literally soar. Those guys made the fish market “world famous” because of their commitment to make a positive difference for people, provide a memorable experience – while occasionally selling some fish.
From this amazing turn around for the market, what was learned?
The truth about the future is unknown. When most people look at creating a future, they look at what they did last year, the year before, etc. People typically do a projection, aka, an extrapolation that is a past-based future. The truth about time is that it’s right now – it’s never ever not right now. So when you create, you don’t necessarily need to rely on the past, it may be a reference point. Base the future on what inspires you and what makes you want to go to work every day. The fish mongers decided to change their name to the World Famous Pike Place Fish Market and re-label their product “world famous.” The guys stepped into a reality as if it was already true which is exactly what happened – they transitioned a sinking market into a world famous one.
What would you tell coaching companies today?
The major component of creating possibility is commitment, not just from the owner, but each individual person. Each person is a creative agent in their own right. You want everyone on board creating, which will also develop an alignment, aka. a total team commitment. It’s like with the Seattle Seahawks, Pete Carroll has been able to get his players aligned on a common vision and goal. We did the same with the fish mongers – the same principle. Every day the guys went to work, they were working within the context of what they were creating: a “world’s famous fish market.” By the way, to this day they still call themselves the fish mongers.
My take away from what you said Jim is: as one might plan for 2016, take time to envision the possibility, commit to it as a team and most importantly step into it as though that future possibility is happening RIGHT NOW – then watch POSSIBILITY become REALITY.
Exactly. It worked for the fish mongers of the World Famous Pike Place Fish Market and the football players of the World Champion Seattle Seahawks.