Matthew Ferrara, Philosopher

Of Fish, Fun and the Future

It has been one hell of a year for small businesses in America. Longer hours, less pay and fewer customers have added up to more stress at the office. It’s time to remember what made the “good old days” so good and build that into the future.

I’ve had this picture on my wall for over ten years. It’s a photo of my friend and mentor, David, who has taught me many of the most important lessons in business over the years. And in life. I almost forgot it was there, because these days I stare at my computer screen, not pictures on the walls, for inspiration; which sometimes even Google cannot find.

In the picture, David is teaching a class from Fish, the remarkable book about a manager who brought life back to a company whose environment had become simply toxic. David was the Senior Vice President of Education for one of the largest real estate companies in the world. You can imagine how impressed I was watching a SVP make a fish-tail on his nose, wiggle it about, and get the salespeople involved. Like the book, David’s delivery was a lesson in itself about the power of fun – and laughter – to teach.

To help people grow.

During the session, David had the group of about 300 people there line up into a a fish “conga line” with music blasting “Hot Hot Hot” and “I Feel Good” as they circled the room. The noise got so loud that the sound system blew. They said “Don’t worry, we’ll sing.”. And they did.

Today I found myself looking at this picture on the wall. If you watched our video about the National Association of REALTORS convention last month, you’ll remember my comments about the serious sense of fatigue in the industry. Not just agents and brokers, but everyone – even customers – are just simply tired. The process, the ups-and-downs, and the media have taken a psychological toll on the industry for almost five years.  Even our company of dedicated trainers, technicians and client relationship managers has fought a sense of exhaustion. Across America, people have given their best, but at a tremendous cost. I’ve seen it in the eyes of many attendees at our workshops and the faces of their managers.

For many people, their job has not been much fun this year.

I am reminded of the lady in Milwaukee who took me aside during a break in a session this fall and said, “Thank you. Not just for teaching me something helpful, but simply for making me laugh for a couple of hours. I forgot how much we used to do that. You have made my day.”

That’s something I learned from David and the Fish book: Make someone’s day. I mostly teach so I can laugh at work myself. I’m glad my clients are in the room, but if you’ve been to one of my classes, you know I’d do it even if I was alone in the room. Because it’s fun every time. I have always assumed that if I can make my own day at work, I’ll be making the day for my clients, too. But sometimes, when times are tough, the hours long and the hurdles ever higher, we forget about fun.

Too many of us don’t make our days lately, but just try to get through them.

The other reason I was looking at this picture is because David called me, to make my day. He knew we’ve had to make some tough decisions this year. Don’t worry – we’re not closing up shop. But like many of our readers, it’s been a year of many challenges. There are probably more to come. Which makes it hard for leaders, managers and even just co-workers to try to make each others’ day. And the days of their clients.

To have fun at work.

What David called to remind me was that smart companies today, as always, find ways to have fun at work. People who enjoy what they do affect those around them. Tough times demand you have more fun at work. And not just posting a cute YouTube videos to Facebook. Having fun doesn’t mean throwing a party; it means doing little things that can make people’s day. Lending a hand. Praising someone’s work. Reminding them you’re there if they need help. Simply saying thank you.

Like the lady from Milwaukee.

Customers want fun, too. They seek out companies that are having fun. They like working with people who bring fun into their work, even when it gets harder than usual. Salespeople and staff will go the distance – and beyond – for companies and managers that find ways to make their day. Even when money is tight. Having fun is infectious. It’s a part of and – and just contributing. But they don’t teach fun at school or in many seminars. Unless you are lucky enough to take a class with David.

So find a way to bring some fun back into your work. Make the tough calls if needed. But don’t leave it there. Somewhere in each one of us is the power to make our jobs fun again – regardless of the economy. Think back to how good we feel when we go to work with a spring in our step and a smile on our face. And when co-workers and clients smile back at us. We may not be able to change our paychecks, but we can change our faces.

It might be as simple as digging out an old photo and remembering what it’s like to have fun again at work.

Have fun, my friends!

  • Davidhorowitz

    So good and so timely.

    In a great video entitled “Leadership: An Art of Possibility” Benjamin Zander tells a wonderful story about “Remember Rule Six.” Without telling the whole story Rule Six is “Don’t Take Your Self So Damned Seriously.” When asked what are the other rules he says, “There aren’t any others.”
    If only we could all remember “Rule Six.”


  • “Having fun is infectious.” – this is my favorite part. Recently I answered the phone here in my office in my usual chipper voice as I see no point in being anything other. Anyway, the caller obviously was having a bad day and said “Wow, you’re in a good mood, don’t you know this is real estate, what happened, did you win the lotto?” My answer was “No sweetie, but I’ve got caller ID and I promise, if I do, you’ll get a call”. He apologized for being rude and said, point taken. We had a brief chat about having fun and he thanked me for my reply and reminding him to laugh.

    I try my hardest each day to smile at strangers, say something encouraging to family, friends and clients and give more than I expect to receive – the rewards I’ve gotten are “priceless”.

  • Thanks for your great comment!

  • Paul

    I love the Fish philosophy…Just to recognize regional differences I have often thought it would be fun for people in WI to toss Badgers, TN to use squirrels, AZ hurls rattlesnakes, NM flings coyotes, MN pitches gophers, and of course, KY uses their cousins…

  • Joditussing

    Very real, and timely. I’m thinking the same things Matthew. Love rule #6.

  • Your so right about bringing the fun back into our daily work lives. My own office could use a little pick me up and it will start with me bringing in a better attitude each time I walk in the door. Thanks so much for the reminder.

  • Matthew – Great post. I know what you say it true about your passion and need for laughter in your classes. That’s why I always do what I can to grab a seat in your sessions at events I am at as well as make sure that the sessions I am lucky enough to facilitate or teach have plenty of laughter and fun as well as tangible learning.

    I’ve always told my audience, if I am bored to teach, I know they’d be bored in the audience so my job is to have fun and they hopefully will follow my lead.

    As for David Horowitz, he is a great man and one of the people who has helped me get to where I am today. Years ago I had the chance to attend a workshop he helped facilitate in Florham Park, NJ on behalf of my local company. David wasn’t sure if I was the right person to attend (a discussion he had with my boss at the time) but after being open to the idea and treating me fairly, we enjoyed a wonderful session and quite a few more after that.

    David did whatever he could from that day forward to help me achieve everything I wanted, and he always did it with a smile on his face and his patented snicker in his voice.

    Matthew – I hope you keep up the great work, leadership, sharing of wisdom and most of all, keep up the laughter in 2011 and beyond. I’ll look forward to working in the same industry with you for hopefully a long time.

    Happy Holidays!


  • Thanks, Sean, for your wonderful comments. I truly appreciate your support and friendship and look forward to working with you next year, too, to help our industry continue to shine! Be well. And keep having fun!

  • Dickchristopher

    I micro-manage our QUALITY program and one step of it gives me the opportunity to personally call each of our sales associates when they exceed their customer’s expectations on our post settlement survey.This is truely a win-win.They feel good hearing how their customer valued their services and I feel good telling them what a wonderful job they did.I do this 30 to 35 times per week.By the way, it’s a great way to start your day,congratulating people for doing a great job!

  • Susan4037

    Matthew this was such a great article and so timely. I was with one of my largefr companies this week – an excellent team of managers – and the owner commented on how “tired” everyone was. We lamented that it wasn’t just the holidays. You are so right about making our own and others’ days. Thanks for sharing and I hope to see you in the new year as I’m up in MA quite often. Take care.

  • Angela Galvin

    Finally I have an answer – agents ask us all the time why are you guys number one what does Martin put in the water ? Fun – we laugh everyday – and we laugh together. One of harcourts four core beliefs is “fun and laughter” and we live that one !