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January 31, 2006

Choosing To Be Happy

Today I went to a talk about keeping employees productive at work. One of the videos they showed was called FISH!, by ChartHouse Productions. It's about the people who work at the Pike Place Fish Market, that booth at the Pike Place market where after you order a fish, they throw it over the counter to have it wrapped. Years ago the store was evidently about to go bankrupt when someone had the brilliant idea of becoming world famous by throwing the fish around, and the rest is history.

(There was evidently some training and consultant work involved also, but the movie skips that part. The video has been wildly popular as a corporate training tool, and beyond showing how the Pike Place Fish Market itself was revitalized when they started tossing the salmon, it has revitalized ChartHouse itself, which has built a big business around FISH! -- 17 language translations, etc -- and this in turn has inspired the Pike Place Fish Market to start offering its own training seminars.)

One of their four philosophies is "choose your attitude" and on the video one of the employees explains how even though he had only 2 hours sleep and had to wake up at 5:45, he had simply chosen to have a positive attitude, and so he did.

I do believe this; you can make yourself happier just by choosing to be happier. Not ecstatic all the time, but somewhat happier. Anyway they show the video and of course it's a metaphor, you're not supposed to start actually tossing fish around at work, but the idea is that you can make your job enjoyable if you work at it. So of course during Q&A someone pops up and says that it's nice to be happy when you're having fun throwing fish, but what if you're unhappy because some executive made a dumb decision that is making your job harder? I mean really, who can be happy in a situation like that.

This kind of stuff annoys me because the person who asked that question COMPLETELY MISSED THE POINT. Look, the people who work at Pike Place Fish Market spend all 14 hours a day on their feet, dealing with heavy, cold fish, in a loud environment, talking and yelling, outside, for not much pay, and possibly on two hours sleep. Plus they deal directly with customers all day so they have to be constantly focused and present in the moment. Now consider the soothing, cosseted environment in which Microsoft employees work. If you consider happiness on the job as the finish line of a race...we are starting SO FAR AHEAD of those people at the Fish Market that it's not even funny. Their job has all the requirements needed to suck, and basically it did suck and was headed for bankruptcy (which would really suck), until with a good idea (and some training and consulting) they decided to make it not suck. And now, looking at it, of course it looks like a ton o' fun...but that's the point of the video.

The other complaint that was brought up was how Microsoft used to be "fun" and people had Nerf fights in the halls and played "Swing Around the Wing" golf and boohoo it's not fun now. As if there is some corporate policy promulgated by the non-existent bureaucracy that prevents you from doing that stuff today. Dude, if you want to have fun, then go have fun! But don't wait for someone to tell you have fun and how to have fun -- because that probably won't be much fun. And if a Microsoft executive making a dumb decision is enough to ruin your life at work and make you think that it can't ever be a happy place, then you're just not getting it.

Posted by AdamBa at January 31, 2006 09:24 PM

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This fish thing is crap. (And I choose to be grumpy)

It's either: you start tossing the fish and your boss tells you not to toss fish, or you get fired.

Or it's: you get told how to toss, when to toss, when not to toss, which forms to fill out before, while and after tossing, and best of all how to toss which fish. (And by the way, you get fired if you let the customer toss the fish)

Posted by: Tony at February 1, 2006 03:02 AM

I think anytime someone is not having fun, they automatically think "Gee - this job used to be fun". Adam - didn't you yourself say that working at Microsoft was no longer fun in your book?

Posted by: Brian at February 1, 2006 11:32 AM

I didn't say it was no longer fun. I was talking about NT in 1998 and I said "the good old days [meaning 1992] were gone." But in 1990 people were already saying the good old days of Microsoft were gone. And I'm sure in the future people will be talking about the good old days of the Xbox in 1999 and the good old days of MSN Search in 2003. You can make your own future "good old days" right now.

- adam

Posted by: Adam Barr at February 1, 2006 08:37 PM