(Excerpted from the Zingerman’s Guide to Good Leading, Part 1: A Lapsed Anarchist’s Approach to Building a Great Business)
It’s been almost thirty years since I first started learning about visioning in the context of workplace leadership. At the time that I heard about it, I can’t say I was particularly open to the concept. I don’t think it came up in any sort really formal way—it was likely more just hearing about it from people like my partner Paul and others around me who had some experience working with it. At best I was probably moderately receptive, and more than likely, almost actively resistant at first.
Having been teaching it for many years now, I know that I’m not the only one who struggled to assimilate the approach. While the idea of visioning—or, as Steven Covey called it, “beginning with the end in mind”— sounds great, the truth of the matter is that it just runs almost completely counter to the way I naturally think. On top of that it’s pretty much the opposite of the way most of the world—from large corporations to close relatives of mine who I love dearly—works. So for all of those reasons, I was not an easy sell on the subject. Fortunately, others around me were. And I’ve stuck around their success and teaching long enough that, all these years later, I’ve actually “got it.”
Years down the road, I can say with certainty that I long ago:a) Fully embraced the idea of visioning
b) Began to use it all the time in most every part of my life
c) Started to teach it regularly, and
d) Actually got to be really good at doing it
It’s not just me that’s using it. The truth of the matter is that, after all these years, visioning work has become almost old hat for us here at Zingerman’s, so much so that I think we often probably take it for granted. But despite this lapse of awareness in near taken-for-grantedness, of late I’ve had an influx of positive comments about the power of the visioning process; how it’s really changed (for the better) people’s approach to business and to life, and how what we’ve written about it here at Zingerman’s is of value to others in the food world, and in the world at large. The energy around the whole subject here is kind of scaring me actually, so much so that it’s making me sit here and write about it again. Both my own experiences, and those of so many others, have me feeling pretty solidly of the belief that doing visioning isn’t just a good idea for us here, but one that really can help—and where it’s been used, really has helped—make the world (work, personal, and global) a better place in sometimes small, but always very meaningful, ways.
The latest note I got on the subject is really what triggered my move to do this piece. It came from Jim Mellgren, who’s made, sold and written about specialty food for many years now (and done all of them well). A friend had forwarded him the article I’d written a number of years ago (I think I wrote it in 2000) on visioning. After reading, he wrote to compliment me on it, and ask permission to quote from it in one of his upcoming columns. I’m actually embarrassed to reprint what he said because it’s not my style to do that, but in the interest of selling others on the value of visioning I’m going to quote him here. He wrote me that it was a, “brilliant essay and quite compelling”. (I kind of cringe writing that down, because I’m really not that great at taking compliments.) And then he went on to say, “You have a nice way of writing these business-oriented essays that make them not only very readable, but they give one the feeling that everything in it could be accomplished and that it would be important to do so.”
The reason I’m using his testimonial really is because I think that his last statement is right on—I truly have learned that anyone who’s ready to learn it, can use the visioning process. And I really, really think that visioning is important work of huge value to every one of us.