For years tourists have flocked, more or less for the halibut, to Seattle's Pike Place Market, where the sight of fishmongers slinging salmon is one of the best free shows in town. A slightly more slippery concept is that there are people willing to pay $590 for a video of the flying-fish act, or even ante up $20,000 for a live reenactment. That's how much some companies are shelling out to learn from the teamwork and upbeat attitude that the Seattle fishmongers, led by Pike Place Fish owner John Yokoyama, have packaged into a slick corporate-training tool. "When you're with them, you can feel their passion," says Mary Hogan, general manager for Sprint's Global Communications, one of more than 3,000 businesses—including Nordstrom and Nokia—that have bought into the fish-flingers' let's-have-fun attitude, some paying for live seminars or two best-selling corporate training videos. "Like tossing fish, this can be a repetitive job—our agents answer up to 800 calls a day," says Hogan, who credits the videos "Fish" and "Fish Sticks!" with inspiring such recent office mood-enhancers as disco balls, colored lights and big-screen TVs.
The origin of the fish philosophy, which includes the simple tenets "Play," "Be there," "Choose your attitude" and "Make their day," dates back to 1988, when Yokoyama found that his business was floundering. "I was on the verge of bankruptcy," he recalls. Turning to his seven employees, "I told them, 'It's do or die. Do we want to keep our jobs or do we want to go under?' " The group chose the former and threw themselves into keeping the business afloat. Soon afterward, says Yokoyama, 60, "I realized I didn't have to demand results; I could enroll people in creating results." The cooperative approach led Yokoyama to initiate bimonthly staff dinners, resulting, he says, in "an environment where people empower each other and work as a team."
Yokoyama's employees, who now number 21 and have shared in the windfall from the video sales and seminars, are pleased by all the attention, but a bit baffled too. "It just trips me out," says Justin Hall, 27. "People come up to me all the time wanting pictures and my autograph. It's crazy!"
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