You Don’t Need to Be Miserable: The Fish Philosophy For Making Work Fun


Like most of the important things which happen to you in life, it was only by pure chance that I came across a life-changing book called FISH!  When I originally discovered FISH!, at the turn of the new Millenium, it was hardly known and far from cool. I was standing in a small bookshop in Mumbai, waiting for a friend, and just happened to pick it up and leaf through it.
Since those days, the ideas behind FISH! have become widely accepted and are embraced by many of the most forward thinking companies across the globe. If you’re not familiar with the four FISH! principles, they’re remarkably simply yet incredibly effective:


FISH Principle #1: Play

The first FISH! principle is to work on having fun with the job you’re doing and the customers you’re dealing with. Obviously there are intrinsically serious jobs – like paramedics and soliders – that make this far more challenging, but that’s when it’s most important. Although this might not be as easy as it sounds, humor can shift the atmosphere in any situation that involves conflict and tension, and can also positively affect the atmosphere in any busy office. It’s important to remember that laughter is infectious and so is a sense of fun – it only takes one person in any company to demonstrate how their job can be fun to create a motivational tipping point for others.


Fish Principle #2: Make Their Day

The second FISH! principle is to try and make the day better for the people you’re working with. If you’re dealing with customers face-to-face this means engaging with them, smiling at them, taking a genuine interest in them, and finding ways to simply add positive morale and value to their day. Many companies are blind to the fact that customers, sadly, expect poor customer service. By simply going that extra mile and showing genuine kindness or concern for them you will effectively differentiate yourself from all of your competitors who treat their customers like numbers and financial assets.


Fish Principle #3: Be There

The third FISH! principle is the ongoing practice of mindfulness. This generally  means being present while you’re at work in
both your body and your mind, and making that extra effort to avoid wandering off into the world of daydreams. It also means being there for co-workers or colleagues and simply paying attention to what you’re doing each day, both for customers and for the business overall.


Fish Principle #4: Choose Your Attitude

The fourth FISH! principle is to be aware of the attitude you bring into your job. When you wake up in the morning you make a conscious choice between being in a good mood or a bad mood, and this is the same energy you’re bringing to work with you. Changing your emotional state is a simple choice you can make and will have a powerful, often unspoken, affect on everyone working with you.


Putting the FISH! Principles Into Action

Yes, it sounds good in theory, but the real question is whether or not FISH! can actually work in a bustling company filled with a wide variety of personality types and working styles. The short answer to this, I would argue, is “yes.” That said, a more elaborate answer would also include “but not all the time.”
The detractors of the FISH! workplace management philosophy say that you can’t expect people to be happy, present, caring and aware in their jobs every single day but, to a certain extent, most of these detractors are more interested in the bottom line than employee morale. I believe that this is generally one of the key mistakes a less enlightened people manager or team leader might make. If you ever come across truly awful customer service you’ll usually only have to look as far as their manager to find the reason behind their behavior.
You see, in any workplace, the attitude of the employees is dictated by their manager or director, so their behaviors are often – for better or worse – a direct reflection of how they’re being treated within the company. If you see staff wearing smiles that look like they were painted on you’ll still be able to see the frustration and upset in their eyes. Sadly, trying to implement FISH! in these companies where the people managers only pay lip service to its motivational principles will be an exercise doomed to failure.
Where FISH! does work remarkably well is within companies that are open to new ideas and new ways of managing people. Does that sound like an idea transported in time from the 1960s and just dripping with patchouli oil? If you want an example how this type of “New Age” thinking can work in the real world then you need only look at what Chip Conley has achieved with this Joie de Vivre Hospitality chain, a company encompassing dozens of successful accommodation properties across California. Here’s a man who manages his entire business based on the emotional state of his employees and by caring about what makes them “tick”. The end result is that he has a team of happy and motivated employees working for him who deliver the types of results, in terms of customer interaction and reviews, which his competitors can only dream about.
The harsh reality for people managers everywhere is that you can either motivate people through consideration, compassion and mutual respect or you can drive them forward with fear, hatred and anger. It’s a choice that you make every single day and that’s what FISH! is all about – making a choice to be a better people manager, to be a better customer service agent, choosing to smile instead of frown, and choosing to genuinely empathize with your customer’s problems.

“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. … We need not wait to see what others do.” – Gandhi

Or, in short, be the change you want to see in the world – don’t just wait for that change to happen of its own accord. FISH! can help you achieve that goal.


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