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Book Review-Red Goldfish: Motivating Sales and Loyalty Through Shared Passion and Purpose

Goldfish aren’t the first thing that you think about when you’re thinking about growth or profit, at least if you’re not a goldfish farmer. Goldfish are the pets that you don’t have to walk or bathe. They’re safe for kids. But, as it turns out, they’ve got a story to tell about how to grow and be successful, and it’s not the growth that happens from a single-minded focus on something. Goldfish aren’t exactly known for their single-minded, unwavering focus. Red Goldfish: Motivating Sales and Loyalty Through Shared Passion and Purpose, however, takes the wanderings of a goldfish and explains how they’re powerful.

Inspiring Minds Want to Know

Is it a job? Is it a career? Or maybe, just maybe, is it a mission? Some of us get a chance to live out our professional lives not in a dreary job created to move another widget across the line, but instead getting to do something extraordinary. This isn’t the kind of white washing that Tom Sawyer did in Huckleberry Finn to get his friends to paint the fence for him. It’s a genuine belief that there’s a reason to what we’re doing.

A job doesn’t inspire. A career doesn’t truly inspire. While it may motivate us to do more and reach higher levels of status and prestige, it isn’t inspiring us. Inspiration is something different. Inspiration isn’t bound to where we’ll end up, but is instead focused on how we can grow the world.

Capturing this inspiration, this drive, is what every organization wants to do. The research shows that the more engaged a workforce is – the more inspired that they’re making a difference –the fewer negative events like turnover the organization will see and the more positive results like profitability they’ll see.

Put Out the Fire

How to Inspire

Inspiration isn’t the result of a formula. It’s not a finely-crafted plan. It’s the result of the right conditions and a spark that ignites a fire. In the companies that Red Goldfish looks at, there’s a leader with a mission. That mission comes from deep inside of them and infects some of those people who are near them. These people join the organization, and before long the entire organization becomes focused.

At some level, organizations seek to hire those folks who are able to be inspired, and at another level they seek to hire those who are already inspired. They’re looking for the people who already have caught the same bug that their owner did. Not that every hire in every organization matches the profile of someone who can be inspired. However, many a leader has experienced what happens when we hire for skill instead of character or mission.

Inspiration comes from knowing – or at least finding – a purpose.


Today everyone, particularly millennials (see America’s Generations), are becoming more aware of how connected we are and more concerned with global and humanitarian issues. (See Leading from the Emerging Future for more.) There is the emergence of conscious capitalism and B Corps that move organizations from engines that drive capital to organizations that are a force for good on the planet. Instead of ignoring the downstream effects of the organization’s life, there is an awareness and focus on how to improve them and leave the world a little better place – in ways beyond creating value for the employees and owners.

For each of the organizations reviewed, that purpose is slightly different. The mark that they hope to leave on the world reflects the quirks of their founders and the people that join them. From the humble purposes of creating spaces for people to the more direct objectives of changing the way people think about the environment, organizations are pursuing their own purpose.

Pursuit of Wisdom and Money

In A Philosopher’s Notes, there is a small reference to the Hindu gods Lakshmi and Sarawati, which I recounted in my review of The Heretics Guide to Management. The short version of the story is that Lakshmi is the goddess of wealth who runs away when people pursue her. Her sister Sarawati is the goddess of knowledge. When you pursue her, the jealous Lakshmi comes running after you. In other words, seeking knowledge and wisdom leads to wealth but seeking wealth directly leads to nothing.

The same can be said of purpose. There are many organizations which have grown because people want to be a part of the good that they’re doing in the world. There are many organizations that benefit from their purpose. They are not profitable because they chase it. They’re profitable because they’re chasing their mission, and the profits come to them.

Limits to Growth

Back to our goldfish. Goldfish vary in size a great deal. The standard carnival goldfish is tiny. It doesn’t get large, because it doesn’t have much room and the food supply is limited. There are five factors that control the ultimate size of a goldfish from 3-4″ to nearly 20″. These five factors have business equivalents as shown in the table below:

Goldfish Business
Size of bowl or pond Market
Number of other goldfish in the pond Competition
Nutrients/cloudiness in water Economy
Its first 120 days of life Startup/New Product
Its genetic make-up Differentiation

The overall size of the growth of your organization is limited by these factors. Of these, the ones that you have the most control of are the launch of new products (see Launch!) and your differentiation. Can you use your purpose as a way of differentiating your organization – to allow it to grow?

Organization Types and Sub-Types

Red Goldfish breaks down the organizations that are driving passion and purpose into eight major categories – and several subcategories – as follows:

  • The Protector – “Those who protect what is important.”
    • Greenwashing
    • General good unrelated to the business model
    • Responsible manufacturing
    • Adding general good to an existing business model
    • Adding specific good directly related to the product to an existing business model
    • Building product and purpose in tandem
    • Starting with a desire to protect and build a product completely dedicated to the purpose
  • The Liberator – “Those who reinvent a broken system.”
    • Stakeholder Liberators – advocates with a focus on improving the situation for customers, vendors, stockholders, and employees. Here are the types:
      • Shaking off an oppressor
      • Liberate employees
      • Liberate customers
    • Business Practice Liberators – companies with a focus on better business practices. They seek to improve on innovation, workflow, process, and business operations. Here are the types:
      • Workflow liberators
      • Manufacturing liberators
      • Technology liberators
      • Product feature liberators
  • The Designer – “Those who empower through the creation of revolutionary products.”
    • Functionality designers
    • Artistic designers
    • Product feature designers
    • Customer experience designers
    • High-tech designers
    • Protecting designers
  • The Guide – “Those who help facilitate individual progress.”
    • Information empowerers
    • Teachers
    • Champions
    • Nurturers
  • The Advocate – “Those who advocate for a tribe.”
    • Advocating for an empowered constituency
    • Helping the misfortunate
    • Honoring service
    • Empowering through education
    • Empowering a cause
    • Defending the powerless
  • The Challenger – “Those who inspire people toward transformative action.”
    • General excellence as a goal
    • Build and empower a community
    • Lifestyle
    • Build a better system
    • Solve a problem
  • The Unifier – “Those who command individuals to join a movement.”
    • Community builders
    • Revolutionaries
    • Uplifters
    • Supporters
  • The Master – “Those on a mission to change lives and improve the world.”
    • Changing lives by building revenue models that pull people up from poverty
    • Changing lives through technical innovation
    • Changing lives through capital investment
    • Changing lives by connecting suppliers & buyers in more efficient ways
    • Changing lives through free enterprise philanthropy
    • Changing lives by providing healthy alternatives

Fish Food

One of the greatest challenges that I’ve personally had in my organization has been figuring out what the purpose is, the fish food that I’m going to feed the organization to allow it to grow to be what it needs to be. It’s not the lack of ideas but the need to refine them into compelling missions that has been the most challenging. In the end, Red Goldfish was some fish food – to help me grow my thinking about what our purpose is and what we can do to live it out. Do you need to get a Red Goldfish to find your purpose?


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