Sunday, January 18, 2015

Book Review Two-fer: FISH! Tales and FISH! Sticks

Fish! Tales: Real-Life Stories to Help You Transform Your Workplace and Your LifeFish! Tales: Real-Life Stories to Help You Transform Your Workplace and Your Life by Stephen C. Lundin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a great concept for a book.  When you start hearing from people who tried out the ideas from your first book and were successful, collect up their stories, flesh out your theories, and publish the whole ball of wax together.  Wonderful.

I like the way the authors organized the book.  They took the "tales" of those who implemented the FISH! philosophy and turned dozens of them into one- and two-paragraph testimonials of success.  People from all kinds of organizations described what they tried and how they made it work.  The authors also took one story exemplifying each of the Four Principles (Play, Choose Your Attitude, Be There and Make Their Day) and explored it a little more fully. This allows them to invite all of us along as their own understanding deepens.  After all, the guys at the Pike Place Fish Market didn't develop a full-on theory of improved quality of work life.  They just chose to  enjoy themselves at work and started living the benefits.

My favorite story in here involves a "grouchy old guy" roofer who comes to embrace the FISH! philosophy (silly as it seems) when he sees that it works: the younger guys work harder, the customers are less difficult to deal with, and the jobs are steady. I spend a lot of my professional life trying to convince people that new ideas will work if we decide in advance to make them work... so kudos to the roofers for giving intentional positivity a fair shot. 

And kudos to the authors for a terrific sequel.

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Fish! Sticks: A Remarkable Way to Adapt to Changing Times and Keep Your Work FreshFish! Sticks: A Remarkable Way to Adapt to Changing Times and Keep Your Work Fresh by Stephen C. Lundin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It's a pun, get it?  FISH! Sticks... like the breaded things we find in the freezer case.  Except in this case "stick" means "to last."  As in change that sustains itself.  Almost always a good thing.

A year after FISH! Tales the authors were back with another fable. Gone are the financial executives who learn about quality of work life from fishmongers in Seattle (though their method survives.) Here we have the burned-out staff of a hospital who learn about how to keep the FISH! Principles alive from a Manhattan sushi chef and her employees.  This restaurant has embedded the FISH! way of life in their culture.  They know how it is done. 

The bad news is that there is no program, no checklist, to be distributed to the team.  Positivity cannot be enforced through external means, with rah-rah posters, in-service workshops, or any kind of one-size-fits all program. In order to stick, the change has to come from within each individual (or at least from a critical mass of them.)

The good news is there are ways to help people along in their journey. When IT is the vision, the big picture idea of the kind of place or organization we wish to be, then each person must discover IT for himself or herself.  Change leaders must live IT - walk their talk and use the organization's system of rewards according to the behavior they seek.  And perhaps most importantly - each person must be willing to give and accept coaching, friendly reminders when we slip into old habits.  If people can't or won't nudge each other for minor infractions of the principles, then over time the gains will be reversed.

I think this is the only business fable I have ever read that includes a tragic blow to a main character, but it turns out that one of the authors lost a child to drunk driving during the writing of the book.  They embed the simple idea that sometimes our co-workers can be our greatest sources of personal support - if that is the kind of workplace we have built. 

Glad for a simple book on sustaining a change effort.  Definitely worth reading.

The two-page summary written by me, contains info on all three books in the series.  Download it for free here.

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