Why is it important? The Principle behind the F.I.S.H. is to tell individuals, in a noncritical way, "right now we want to be positive and all ideas are okay." It allows every idea to be voiced, regardless of how ridiculous or stupid it is. This is extremely valuable in the effective thinking process. The F.I.S.H. works tremendously well in groups where the "boss" is present, because it is truly okay to flip the fish to the boss. Remember, the F.I.S.H. eats Fatally Inappropriate, Slimy Hits.
How do I do it? First, establish ground rules outlining when you will generate ideas and when you'll be evaluating them. Be sure to cover this thoroughly at the beginning of the meeting; post the rules if that will help. Kick off the meeting by having the group identify and write down "negative" phrases that stop the free flow of ideas cold. Post them in a prominent place where they'll remind everyone not to use them. We lay a red plastic fish innocently on the table. Then, if a negative or demeaning reaction surfaces, we instantly pass (or sometimes throw) the fish to the offending party. This sends the message that we're in a positive mode and that negative or critical input is not desired. Given the nonthreatening nature of the fish, the "zap" is usually well received. The fish becomes a symbol of and a barometer for the expansive thinking mode.
What are some ways to use this? This technique is good to use at any meeting, especially if there is a mix of participants from various levels of your organization. In one case, flipping the fish to the boss was a major breakthrough for a management team. We were caught in the traditional "boss speaks, all listen" mode and ideas for the five-year strategic plan were not flowing. During the first hour, most of the suggestions were given by the president and all the management team members would agree with him. Nothing new was emerging from the group. It was only after one of the managers kiddingly tossed the fish to the president, who had criticized the manager's idea, that the logjam was broken. After that, the fish enjoyed the company of many of these managers, the group loosened up, and more people started to participate.