Book Review: Stephen C. Lundin, FISH!: A Remarkable Way to Boost Morale and Improve Results (2000).

Stephen Lundin’s Fish!: A Remarkable Way to Boost Morale and Improve Results quickly became a revered text in modern management styles after its publication a decade ago, particularly well-known for its promotion of “fun” in the workplace to motivate employees.  There’s actually a lot more in the book, though, than just its “fun”-orientation, particularly in its zen-like endorsement of “choose your attitude” and “being present” in the moment.

The lessons imparted in Fish are very simple and provocatively empowering.  The authors assert that employees in the workplace have the power to change their own attitudes about their work, creating a positive environment that will not only be more productive but happier in their lives.

Clearly, these are not novel ideas, but what gives them power is that Fish! uses as an example of this management technique the Pike Place fish market in Seattle, which is known for its lively fishmongers tossing fish to and fro.  The idea is that if these workers, who have very difficult jobs that are not particularly lucrative, can maintain an amazingly motivated attitude about their work, then so can anyone.

The four elements of the Fish! philosophy break down as follows:

1.  Choose your attitude

This is probably the simplest and yet most powerful of the ideas generated in the book.  As the authors state: “there is always a choice about the way you do your work, even if there is not a choice about the work itself.”  Workers choose the attitudes they bring to work: they’re either going to be miserable, or they’re going to be motivated.  If they choose to be motivated, and get in the habit of making that choice, they will be happier and more productive.  If you have to be at work, why not be great at it rather than ordinary?

2.  Play

The second, and more celebrated, element of the Fish! philosophy is to incorporate “play” into the workplace.  The idea is that you can be serious about your business and still have fun with the way you conduct business.  It shows that you’re not taking yourself so seriously, and that you understand the importance of good humor even in stressful situations.  The benefits of play are as follows: happy people treat each other well, fun leads to creativity, the time passes quickly, having a good time is healthy, and work becomes a reward and not just a way to rewards.

3.  Make their day

This is the core service concept of the Fish! philosophy: approach customer service with the goal that you’re going to make someone’s day.  Go out of your way to give someone a memorable experience working with you.

4.  Be present

The Fish! philosophy also incorporates an element of Zen-like attention to being present in the moment.  The authors point out that people in service professions tend to “zone out” in their work.  Because they’re so unhappy, just clock-watching and waiting for their shift to end, they don’t really pay attention to their clients or customers.  They’re not fully engaged in their work.  In the Fish! philosophy, you need to concentrate on being present in the moment, and being focused on the needs of your client.


This is a great book, and one that every successful real estate agent should read.  The simplest advice I’ve ever heard about maintaining a positive approach to business is this: “choose your attitude.” That’s it.  You have control over the attitude you bring to work every day.  If you choose to be positive, you’ll find that it becomes easier every day to become the kind of professional, and person, that you want to be.

Really, all four lessons from Fish! are worth remembering, including everything that Lundin has to say about great customer service.  This is a must read.