The Recipe for Visioning

Posted by Ari Weinzweig on Aug 11, 2022 2:07:23 PM
Ari Weinzweig, Co-Founder  of Zingerman's Community of Businesses, talks about the natural laws of business, the four elements of visioning, and the recipe for visioning. 

Episode with guest: Ari Weinzweig

Co-Founder of Zingerman's Community of Businesses

(This episode was recorded in August of 2022.)


Key Episode Take-Aways:

1. The healthiest ecosystems are the most diverse. (click to jump to this topic below) With the pandemic, diversity is a principle of health, and the healthiest ecosystems are the most diverse. This is a law of nature. People can argue about it, like you can argue that gravity doesn't work either, which is fine, but the reality is if you look at nature, diversity is the healthiest. And so we benefited from that, because we had everything for a mail order, for which the pandemic was like a perfect storm. Nobody could go out and nobody could travel and they couldn't go bring gifts. So they sent gifts, we were doing well. Then we had the challenge of trying to ship but not stand within six feet of each other and all of that chaos. At the complete other end of the continuum, like Cornman Farms, which is our event space, where we do weddings and corporate events, and our food tours, which clearly went to zero. The restaurants dropped by about two thirds almost overnight, but the bakehouse actually stayed steady. People seem to embrace bread eating and pastry eating and baking at a level not seen in centuries. So the bakehouse kind of worked out well, but ZingTrain where all our business was basically internal, some people coming to Ann Arbor to go to seminars, or us going out to speak or train dropped to zero. So that's where the earthquake sort of metaphor seemed to resonate for me because it was fine on one day, and then completely collapsed almost overnight. But everybody's still here.

2. The four elements of effective visioning. (click to jump to this topic below)  First thing is it needs to be inspiring. This is implicit in everything I've just been saying. And you've been asking about. Second is it needs to be strategically sound. In a general sense, the forecasting is, as I learned from you guys, it should be pushing us to get to greatness. But it's not going to work if it's a made up fantasy. The third one is that we document it. There's enormous power in this. One of the biggest misconceptions people take from this is they need to figure out their vision and then write it down. This is the other way around, you don't need to know what it's going to say you just write. And then the fourth element is that we communicate it, which is incredibly powerful. So like our vision for 2032 is 10 pages long. I don't read them the whole vision, there's around 12 bullet points. So I talked to the headlines, and then I let them read it on their own time. But the point is I'm telling them where we're going, and why it matters and how their work matters. And if they don't like it, wouldn't you rather find out in the beginning? 

3. The recipe for visioning includes hot pen or free writing. (click to jump to this topic below)  With free writing, you're planting yourself in the future at a particular point of your choosing. And you're going to just sit and write. If you come to the ZingTrain seminar where we teach this for two days, we'd probably give you about 40-45 minutes. And the key is you need to keep writing. So when I get stuck, I just write curse words, other people can write the Lord's Prayer, if you're down where you are, you could write the St. Louis Cardinals starting lineup, you know, whatever you want. But the key is to keep writing because the the constant writing overrides the overthinking brain, which we all have. When you do it that way, don't worry about whether it's personal or work, it's a draft. The key is to keep writing and they can be woven together, it's much easier to take them apart later and take out the part about your relationship with your significant other that's not really relevant. But but the reality is that the personal one and the business one need to be congruous.


Continue scrolling to read the full episode transcription.


Announcer  00:00

Welcome to the change the game podcast, where we share stories of open book management and highlight capitalism at its best. Thank you for tuning in to this episode of the change the game podcast with special guest Ari Weinzweig. In this episode, Ari talks about the four elements of visioning, that the recipe for visioning starts with writing everything down on paper, and those who get ahead in life form their own vision of what life can be and pursue it. Here's your hosts, Rich Armstrong and Steve Baker.


Steve Baker  00:31

Welcome to the change the game podcast, where we are changing the game by doing business differently and highlighting stories of capitalism at its best. I'm Steve Baker with the great game of business, and in the past few episodes, we've talked with different business leaders about just how crazy the markets, business, and life in general has been. And that takes a toll. Looking out to the future is something that Jack stack has taught us all and is done to manifest great things growth, courage, even hope. To do this creating a vision for your organization is a non negotiable. And when I think of visioning, I think of Ari Weinzweig, the co-founder of Zingerman's Community of Businesses in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Now, you've heard us talk with Ari before, he's a business guru, a food guru, literature guru, a prolific author, and probably the funniest lapsed anarchist in America, in my opinion. Ari is a longtime friend of the game, of course, and a super successful practitioner of open book management. Ari welcome to the podcast. 


Ari Weinzweig  01:32

It's good to be here. I don't think anybody's ever called me that before, maybe I'll add it to my bio.


Steve Baker  01:39

Well, if you do, just make sure and put according to Steve Baker. So why don't you catch us up on what's been happening in the Zingerman's Community of Businesses since we last talk, you know, including things like the different businesses, how many employees? Revenues, stuff that people want to know. 



Ari Weinzweig  01:58

Absolutely. I don't remember exactly when we last talked, but we're, we're right around where we would have finished the year had the pandemic not happened, which is a pretty large, that's like a 30 foot high letter I letter F at this point. And since it's actually seems to not be over and actually seems to be as bad as it's ever been right now. It is what it is. But anyway, we, we actually, it actually happened here in Ann Arbor, pretty much on our 38th anniversary. So middle of March, March 15. This when we opened the Deli in 1982. And like the next day, it was it was pretty much start to shut down. And within a week we were essentially in operating but very, in a very damaged state. So I started to look as you know, I write a lot about it's not our subject today, per se, but I write a lot about organizations as ecosystems. And I started to look at it like an earthquake on the ecosystem. Because it was unexpected, certainly by us. And I think even by Jack, although he's pretty good prognosticator. So for all I know, he's got some recording of himself saying that there was gonna be a pandemic, but But anyway, we furloughed about 275 people of the 700 or so that we're working here within 10 days, which, you know, as it would be SRC, it's a pretty horrific way to go into a day in an organization like a lot of people listening, where you're so devoted to the employees and to the people that we work with. So, but of course, I will say that open book makes it a little easier. It's pretty horrible, but everybody understands what's going on. And they can all see the cash situations. And, you know, like many people on here, we went from being, you know, fairly healthy. We're not like we're raking in the money. We're in the food business. Not in, you know, we're not Google. But all of a sudden, when your sales dropped drastically in a week, what seemed fairly appropriate level of debt all of a sudden starts to be really scary. So anyway, we would have finished that fiscal year, which ended July at about $70 million in sales. We had about 700 year round people and we hire then and now about 350 more for the holidays, for mail order and for the bakehouse and so we furloughed about 275. We finished I think the fiscal year we were on target to hit roughly hit plan, but we finished about 50 million I think for the year, so it's a little weird because our fiscal year starts, like I said, August 1, so we were little over halfway through the year when that happened. And then in a good way, we haven't lost anybody. The pandemic, you know, diversity is, is the is a principle of health and ecosystems, the healthiest ecosystems are the most diverse. This is a law of nature. People can argue about it, like you can argue that gravity doesn't work either, which is fine. People used to argue that I'm sure at some point, but the reality just is if you look at nature, diversity is the healthiest. And so we benefited from that, because we had everything for a mail order, for which the pandemic was like a perfect storm. Because nobody could go out and nobody could travel and they couldn't go bring gifts. So they sent gifts. And so we went, we were doing well. And then it was like, boom, over there. So and then we had the challenge of trying to ship but not stand within six feet of each other and all of that chaos. And then we had at the complete other end of the continuum, like Cornman Farms, which is our event space, where we do weddings and corporate events, so and then our food tours, which, you know, clearly went to zero. So and then in the middle, the restaurants dropped by about two thirds almost overnight, and the bakehouse actually stayed steady. And people seem to embrace bread eating and pastry eating and baking at a level not seen in centuries. So that that the bakehouse kind of worked out well, but ZingTrain as I'm sure with you guys, you know, where all our business was basically internal, some, you know, people coming to Ann Arbor to go to seminars, or us going out to speak or train dropped, you know, was doing great, and then boom, zero. So that's where the earthquake sort of metaphor seemed to resonate for me because it was fine on one day, and then completely collapsed. But you know, almost overnight. So anyway, so everybody's still here. We haven't really started any new businesses, which, you know, in my fantasy we would, but the reality is, where we went from furloughing 275, probably the same pattern, as everybody listening to this, to a year or a year ago, September last September? I don't know, we were probably short. At one point 150, 200 employees. Now, we're still short, but not as bad as September. I think these patterns seem to be universal. We've had, seeing train clients, were just here from Guatemala to come for training. And they have the same exact pattern in Guatemala City. So I'm like, okay, if it's happening there than it's happening everywhere. So then in a good way, we're just plowing ahead. I mean, we've done some stuff that you and I have talked about, we rolled out our statement of beliefs, we did a podcast on that. We are proceeding with our succession work, which will we can come back and do another talk on that down the road. And then I had this new pamphlet come out. 


Steve Baker  08:05

Yeah, so.


Ari Weinzweig  08:06

There's a lot more, but that's the that's the nickel version.


Steve Baker  08:08

No, that's great. And I do appreciate the the earthquake metaphor, because I can tell you that, you know, all of us at the SRC companies and many Great Game companies, and Jack himself, you know, we have been, you know, forecasting a recession since 2009. We're like in 10 years, you know, so 2019 was a recession. That's what we thought, so we prepared for that. We had the cash, we're all set up, no one, thought it would be a shutdown. You know, a pandemic was not even on the radar. So I'm just gonna say that, you know, while we were in better shape than maybe some other companies or something, it's still became that, and then the patterns followed, you're right. I mean, we still have, I was on the careers portal for SRC on Monday, I think we have the 75 openings. It's like, okay, can we not get people to work, but let's, let's get to what is happening here. So I got pretty excited. I should rephrase that. I get excited when you put something new out, because you're always inspiring to me and to our team and into our community. So, when you let us know that you had this new pamphlet out the story of visioning at Zingerman's, I immediately bought it. I got the PDF download and started reading it in an airport. I think we talked that day as a matter of fact, I'm telling you, I'm pretty excited about this. And so I was able to read it on that trip. And I've been I got it red lined. It's right here with me. It's it's pretty important stuff. And I would just like to ask, you know, what inspired you to share Zingerman's story of visioning?


Ari Weinzweig  09:42

Well, as you might know, I mean, I've written, you do know, I mean, I've written about visioning before it's this is not a new revelation, but a couple of things pushed me to write about it now. One is that we have rolled out our 2032 vision and the story of that rollout is in the pamphlet. So that seemed timely. Like all things, you know, I'm sure the same is true for Jack with open book or for all of you down there. I mean, when you work at it, you continue to learn new things. So, as you know, I wrote a piece on natural laws of business like gravity. On the next list, which I didn't finish writing, diversity will be on there, because it isn't natural law, but one of one of the natural laws, which everybody listening to this already intuitively knows, you got to keep getting better all the time. I mean, and in sports, you know, which the Great Game is somewhat modeled after, it's fairly obvious. And the timeline shortens every year other than for Tom Brady is like physical health gets in the way, right. But in business that doesn't need to be that way. For most of us, unless you're doing incredibly physical work every day, as most of us as we grow, we can shift into, you know, a better, a different balance and intellectual, emotional work, you know, combined with the physical and I like both. But anyway, this was a chance to continue to grow our work. And in that sense, so the new vision coming out and the learnings that we've, I've leaned over the last couple of years about visioning. And then, you know, as you know, people asked to see the vision all the time. So it's like, I might as well put it in a nice format, where they can see all our visions and get the history of it. And as you see in the pamphlet, I mean, I believe evermore strongly this is, I'm not big on hyperbola. But this is literally life changing. And if you don't use it, of course, it won't do anything. If you do use it, and you do the work, it's not magic, because we still have to do the work to make the vision come true. But it has changed my life dramatically. Our organization, there's no question we would not be here. You know, trying to imagine Zingerman's Community Businesses without visioning is like imagining what SRC would have been like without Great Game. Like you can make up a story, but you have really no idea because it's so integrated into who you are, that it just doesn't even compute, you know, in people's minds. So, so that's really what drove me to put it out.


Steve Baker  12:21

So, I agree, I think it is life changing. It's sort of like having a compass, you know, and being able to tell no matter what happens, you can still get back on track. You got to do the work. I've shared your work on visioning. With, you know, when I first prepared for this, I said hundreds of people. But in reality, I tell people about it all the time, while I'm speaking and everything else. So it's probably 1000's. But, but personally, one on one, like sending him an email with a link to an article or to Zingerman's to pick up a pamphlet. We're talking family, friends, complete strangers, and some of them look at me like I'm crazy. But I'm going you clearly just need a vision. So what's different about this new book? 


Ari Weinzweig  13:05

Well, there's three essays that were published in print before on paper, before one that wasn't published at all. And then like I said, it has the the four visions. So the first vision is the one we didn't even no was vision. It's that that unconscious one that everybody who starts something has in our heads, which there's nothing wrong with, that got us through from 1982 till about, not about, I guess it would be 1993 to 2022. What's that? 29 years ago, right around now, Paul sat me down in front of the deli one morning and the stories in the pamphlet, but yeah, and I looked at me, and he goes, Okay, in 10 years, what are we doing? And I told the story in the pamphlet, but I mean, I was like why are you even bothering me? Like this is a ridiculous question. It's the same response that people will give often, if you say you need a vision, I mean, in essence asking me, what's your vision? I didn't have one. It's not like I was satisfied. Nor was he satisfied, because we've always been about what's now called continuous improvement. But it's a big, big differences, as we both understand now, and I didn't understand then between having an inspiring vision of a future that you've chosen and written for yourself, versus getting better at what you currently do, and it's not evil to just keep getting better at what you do. It's perfectly fine. And much of the world keeps doing it. It's just as far as I know, we only get one shot at what we're doing. And essentially, this is me asking myself or you or anybody listening like, wouldn't you rather write your own story? Rather than let the world write it for you? 


Steve Baker  14:54

Yeah, don't let life happen to you, happen to life.


Ari Weinzweig  14:56

And honestly, because I've had this conversation with some people, if you if what you want is to let life happen to you, that's a vision. You know, and I've said that to people, you know, who run companies, I have one guy who's actually a friend of mine. And he's like, You know what, I just, I don't want to do this, like, I just love, you know, it's just like you just hang around, and you wait till they call for this opportunity. And then the adrenaline gets going, I'm like, okay, that's awesome, dude, that's your vision. Why don't you write it out, or get somebody to write it for you, because you're hiring people who think their job is to straighten it out. And what you're really telling them is you want them to be this business SWAT team, and I think that's awesome. But then hire people that that's what they know, they're like, they're going to work for Special Forces, they're going to work in an admin job in the supply depot, you know, and, and either is okay, but you're you're, you're essentially giving them the image that you want stability, when what you really want is this vision that's in your head. So anyway, this is a chance to tell your own story. It doesn't make it happen by itself, but it has a lot of power to help make it happen. And it's like I said, we wouldn't be here without it.


Steve Baker  16:17

And one of my favorite quotes in the new piece is if you want to give a gift to your organization, or to your family, or even to yourself, it's hard to give a better one than writing a vision of greatness. So Ari, how important is it to draft a personal vision before a professional or organizational vision? Which comes first? 


Ari Weinzweig  16:37

That's a good? That's a good question. I don't, I think it doesn't, either can work. 


Steve Baker  16:42



Ari Weinzweig  16:43

I guess if you do it, if you do the writing the way that we recommend it, and that's written about in part one, the recipe itself is in the pamphlet, just but the detail about it is in part one of the book, which is building great business. And if you, you do what we talked about, which is we call hot pen, if somebody is an English major, they would call it free writing. But essentially, you're planting yourself in the future at a particular point of your choosing. And you're going to just sit and write down. If you come to the ZingTrain seminar where we teach this for two days, we'd probably give you about 40-45 minutes. And the key is you need to keep writing. So you can you know, when I get stuck, I just write curse words, other people can write the Lord's Prayer, if you're down where you are, you could write to St. Louis Cardinals starting lineup, you know, whatever you want. But the key is to keep writing because the the constant writing overrides the overthinking brain, which we all have. When you do it that way, as we teach people like don't worry about whether it's personal or work, it's a draft. So just the key is to keep writing and they can be woven together, it's much easier to take them apart later and take out the part about your relationship with your significant other that's not really relevant. But but the reality is that, you know, to state the almost obvious that the personal one and the business one need to be congruous. So people write, you know, if they're going to write a personal vision that says they're working 20 hours a week, and it's great, and they go on beach, or they play golf, or they do whatever they do, and everything's awesome. And then their business division says we're growing 40% a year, and we, you know, like, that's, if they're still leading the company, we all know that that's not going to work. It's a nice fantasy, but it's not the reality. So one of the beauties of this process is that it invites us to describe our own future. So it's not the future your mother wants, your business school professor wants, it's not the future Jack stack wants, or that I want, it's the future that you want. And so, like, in a good way, there's no right answer, right? It's a personal thing. So the jazz musician, Thelonious Monk, once said, A genius is a person most like himself.


Steve Baker  19:00

I love that. 


Ari Weinzweig  19:02

Yeah, me too. And that's what this is, right? So in a great way, like, I'm trying to work more, man, I'm running out of years. I got more books to write. I got a lot to learn. I'm excited, I like going to work as much now as ever. 


Steve Baker  19:16



Ari Weinzweig  19:16

Other people are like, you know what, I'm done man. And I mean, I just heard a podcast of a guy talking about his parents who were emergencies. Dad was emergency medicine physician, and just just like one day got to really you know what, I'm done. I'm gonna go farm.  And that's great, too. So there's no right answers. But the key is that it's your answer and that when we're pursuing a future that we want it's kind of obvious, you're going to work a lot harder at it, the decisions feel better and they're easier to make. It doesn't mean there's no problems like pandemics still come. But when we're pursuing a vision of our future that we believe in, the whole work is different. If you doubt this, just look at Ukraine right now. 


Steve Baker  19:32

Yeah, no kidding.  Yeah.


Ari Weinzweig  19:34

Because then there they clearly, not everybody, but most of the people seem to have a pretty clear vision of what they want to create. Whereas you have Russian soldiers whose vision is mostly to get paid and not get killed. 


Steve Baker  20:17



Ari Weinzweig  20:17

And and you can do that for a while, but it's not very sustainable emotionally, it's not ultimately good business. Because the people who only do the job for the money, whether it's in sports, or in the military, or in what you and I do, it, they're never going to give it everything they've got, they're never going to push the envelope, they're not going to put themselves out there emotionally or physically to take the chances that need to be taken to get to something we really dreamed up on our own.


Steve Baker  20:48

Absolutely. Having that Northstar, really, I mean, with all the research points to it, a smart engaged organization, family person always outperforms the other. So if I, if you don't mind me getting a little bit personal here, you said that this was life changing for you. So how has visioning impacted your life organizationally and personal?


Ari Weinzweig  21:09

Well, we, I mean, you started the intro by describing, you know, saying that we have this community of businesses. So like I said, and again, the stories in the pamphlet, but Paul sat me down unannounced and asked me, what's your vision, and as I described in the pamphlet, I mean, you know, with the benefit of 30 years of hindsight, he essentially had identified in his gut that we had reached a point of organizational midlife, you know, and a lot of us had been there, it could happen at home, it could happen at work. You're not a bad person, you're not not trying hard, but we've lost a little bit of our way, you know, and in an essence, what happens is we fulfill most of what we said we're going to do. So this happens at home, when people's kids leave the house, it could happen, you know, in a business when you've achieved the initial goals you had, and in a sense, that's what happened to us. And it's, it's a good, we call it a good problem. Natural law number nine on my list, but it's still a problem. And so we wrote a vision, had we not done the visioning the way that we did it. You know, I mean, the standard models that are presented to all of us are what we probably would have done just because we would have felt compelled to, like, I don't know, the everybody's yelling at us that we're idiots for not opening, you know, 500 Zingerman's all over the country. And we turned down offers from Disney and, you know, Chicago and New York and whatever, and other people are yelling at us, because we're not going public. And it's a great way to flip the company. And, you know, and then other people are like, this is your chance to sell it now, while that, you know, and those all for the right people, that's totally fine. But it's not what we wanted to do. And so, because of the visioning process, we found a way and a tool and a mental methodology that essentially allowed us like I said, to write our own story, not to pick from somebody else's multiple choice list, and then spend the rest of our lives feeling bad. You know, Daniel Pink's got a new book out on Regret. 


Steve Baker  23:23

I haven't read that one yet. 


Ari Weinzweig  23:24

Yeah, well, he, he, I haven't read it. But I've listened to him. I like his work. But he he said, almost all the regret that people, that sticks with people is regret of not doing what they really wanted. There's the amount of regret over making the decision in a good with good intentions, and it didn't work out as relatively low. But the regret is most, is highest when people always wanted to do X, and they didn't ever take the chance to do it. So this really allowed us to write a future of our own choosing. And so it's kind of obvious, like when you're living the life of your choosing to your point a minute ago, it's just feels better. Right? So I mean, I work hard, and I like working. And we got the same problems, people do everywhere. Like I said, we're still short staffed and people call in sick and people leave when we don't expect it and coolers break and, you know, ventilation hoods, they keep coming to try to fix it, and it's still not fixed and, you know, all the same issues that everybody else has, but when it's when it's the story that you wrote, and one that comes from your heart. Those are problems and challenges that we don't love, but in the same way, that whatever, if somebody's playing for the NBA championship, and this was their whole dream, like no, they don't like playing hurt, but they play hurt because they want to get there you know. No, they don't like when they're pissed off at their teammate or they don't like the coach's decision, or they got a bad call from the referee. But these are minor obstacles that they take a deep breath and reground and keep going. When you don't have that vision, any one of those things can send you off on a completely different road. And it's probably not the road you want, it's the one that your emotional state led you to do in the moment. And this is a whole different way to be present. So our organization, today, we're as per the vision, I mean, we're all our stuff is here in Ann Arbor area, that's very important for us, doesn't mean other people need to do the same thing. I just have a strong belief about doing business in the community in which we're present, as opposed to what feels a little colonial for me as a history major. You know, where you're open, where you're making decisions for people 500 or 5000 miles away?


Steve Baker  25:42



Ari Weinzweig  25:43

You know, we we only open each business once. It's not right or wrong. For other people, we just like unique things. And I'm drawn to the people making music that's really special, or to the artists that are really special, or to the businesses that are really special. And I think it's easier in the short term to replicate. But in terms of what inspires me and I want to be inspired to do the work we're doing, that's a really important thing. And then, you know, like the new vision talks about succession planning, because we're working on it. This is a way to get out front of it. It's not just yeah, yeah, yeah, I should do that. And, you know, it's actually describing what it will look like and feel like when we've completed it successfully, even though we don't have quite all the pieces yet.


Steve Baker  26:25

Yeah, I love that. Well, that brings me to another question that's been on my mind anyway, you write visions for like everything? 


Ari Weinzweig  26:31



Steve Baker  26:31

 Everything. And so in the pamphlet, there is a vision for writing the pamphlet. So, tell me about that.


Ari Weinzweig  26:39

Well, I kind of busted myself as I was working on it, because I'm like, I mean, we do we do, obviously, we don't write it for every single thing. But we try to write them for any project, you know, if there's a new job being created we'll write a vision, our bottom line change process, which we could do another conversation about, but which, is a recipe for organizational change, as I describe it in your context, it's essentially open book, but for change, as opposed to just for finance, that's the second of the five steps for that is to write a vision, because if you don't know where you're going with the change, you're just reacting, you're not clear on where you're headed. So it's really true for everything. I mean, I just wrote a tiny one the other night, because I, you know, it's a, it's a very minor food portioning change, for something that we give away. So it's not even like it's not taking anything away really from the customer, they could have more if they want, but we mostly I think, waste a lot of it. And so 


Steve Baker  27:39



Ari Weinzweig  27:40

it's, instead of me just complaining about it. And saying we should do something, this is a way to actually engage the change process. And I just described what it's gonna look like. And so I shared it with some of the key people to get their feedback. And now I'm going to roll it out with more people next week, right? So it works for that, it works at home, works for projects. And essentially, as I write in the, in the, in the book pamphlet, and anything I've done is, it's an intuitive process that everybody who's leading well is already doing in their head. The problem is, A as we grow, less and less people around us know what that vision is, and then B like happened to me and Paul, in the early 90s, we essentially fulfilled it. And if you fulfilled it, you no longer have that inspirational vision that you're going after.


Steve Baker  28:30

So it's just this constant process. So now, I could talk about this for days, I think with you, because I just want to crack your head open. You know, 


Ari Weinzweig  28:40

I don't know if you want to do that.


Steve Baker  28:41

un school, everything. Figure that out. Maybe that's another, another day. But something that has come up before in conversation, and then you reminded me of it, is that much like Zingerman's Businesses. Your publications are kind of off the grid. In other words, it's not like you're out there trying to be number one on the New York Times bestseller list. But what prompted that approach? 


Ari Weinzweig  29:07

Yeah, it's, it's essentially a vision also, I mean, so again, there's no right or wrong. Right? So just like it's a legitimate vision, if somebody in our industry can easily say, hey, I want to have one pizza place, I just want it to be really awesome. I don't want more than 40, 50 seats, so it's not too big. And that's all I want to do. And I'm totally at peace with taking the pay range that that facilitates and I'm not trying to compete for my salary with somebody who you know, the VP of sales from Domino's Pizza, it's not good or bad, it's just obviously very different. So with the books, one of the things that I learned from my anarchist studies, which you referenced already, is how important it is for the means that we use, the way we work needs to be congruous with the ends that we want to achieve. Okay. So in a really simplistic example, this is where, and it happens, unfortunately, all too regularly out in the world, but yelling at your employees to get better service to the customer is ridiculous. 


Steve Baker  30:18



Ari Weinzweig  30:19

 Right. So this is really trying to work in a way that's congruous with our values and our vision. And in a way that feels good to me, because when it's my books, it's my, you know, essentially my vision. And I want a book that I could feel really good about. And for me, not saying others are the same, it's more important to feel good about it than it is to sell more. 


Steve Baker  30:48



Ari Weinzweig  30:48

I don't make my living off it. Obviously, we like to sell them. 


Steve Baker  30:54



Ari Weinzweig  30:55

And that's awesome. But I'm not, my sole income is not coming from books, somebody else who's raising four kids, and they're an author might understandably make different compromises than I make. So I did work with big publishing for a book, it was not a very rewarding experience. I, you know, the mean, well, but their, their communication was not great from my experience. And,


Steve Baker  31:25



Ari Weinzweig  31:26

the values, in hindsight, I could say pretty clearly were not aligned. And I'm not saying they're bad people, or they don't do good content work. It just didn't feel right. I mean, just like any other relationship, and I was like, this is not worth it. Like, anybody who's listening, that's written a book, it's a lot of work. And nobody writes books other than the top, you know, 1/10 of 1%, nobody's writing a book for the money. You write a book, because you believe in what you're doing, because you liked the craft of it. Because, you know, I mean, I'm all those things, right? And help succession because it's sharing our philosophy and like, just like Great Game of Business did, when Jack and Bo Burlingham wrote it, etc. So it really was saying, like, you know, what, I want to do books the way I want, I want to be able to pick the paper because I care about that. I care where the line breaks go, and I care where the paragraph breaks go, because the aesthetics of the book is, to me as important as the content of the book. Because if it's great content, but it's in a really, you know, not lovely package that's aesthetically aligned with our work, it's, it doesn't feel right, and I want to feel good, you know, in the same way that like, if you're a musician, and you make a song, right, and this gave me that greater understanding of all the musicians whose interviews I would listen to, and they would say, like, yeah, we've lost control of the music to the label. Because when the musician signs a contract, unless they're, you know, the big, big names, or when the author signs a contract, unless they're the big, big names, you're basically it's not your book anymore. It's not your music, it's the labels, there's the publisher, and, you know, that's how they work. So, this is the same like, Okay, I'm the publisher. I don't have all the answers. But I want to, when I, when you come in, and you buy one of these pamphlets, like somebody did last night, when I was working floor at the Roadhouse, like I feel really good, in the same way that I feel about serving our food, you know, and, and that's how I want to go through life.


Steve Baker  33:25

So you really approached the the publications exactly the same way you do as the food.


Ari Weinzweig  33:30

Yeah, totally. And so, you know, when I worked with the big publisher, this is many years ago, and this was around Zingerman's Guide to Good Eating, which was the first big book that I did. And, you know, they were like, we got to use this paper, because we want to keep the price point down. And, you know, I kept thinking, like, that's not our customers, like, our customers want better quality, and they're more than happy to pay more to get something really amazing. So, you're really, you know, like, trying to get it into the discount bookstores is not what we do. Right? So in essence, again, it's not a judgment of other people. This is just me trying to live in a way, you know, as per the visioning that's aligned with who I want to be. And so we essentially the books are like sort of the farm to table version of books, right? Like we do the work here. You know, we, we print them here in town, we do the design, and we steer clear of Amazon, because I don't you know, with all due respect to those who work there, and those who use it a lot. I don't feel like it's aligned with our values.


Steve Baker  34:33

I love it. Well, and someday, I hope you will start using you know, food based inks or something so I can look the pages and 


Ari Weinzweig  34:41

Well, that's 


Steve Baker  34:42

Wouldn't work very well on a PDF, but


Ari Weinzweig  34:44

Well there's probably, somebody probably, you know, on the high tech world is working on that as we speak.


Steve Baker  34:50

Probably. Well, let's get super practical for a minute about the listener with somebody new to us to Great Game, to Zingerman's. What are the four elements of effective visioning? How would you, you know, you meet somebody on a plane? What would you tell him?


Ari Weinzweig  35:07

Yeah. So there, I tell him the same thing I till in the class, and we've been using it here so long, it's like all the all the principles of open book for you guys. You know, we we, first thing is it needs to be inspiring. This is implicit in everything I've just been saying. And you've been asking about. Second is it needs to be what we call strategically sound. So in essence, I would say, and I've said this year, I mean, this is basically what forecasting is in the Great Game world, right? Like, and that got a little tricky during the pandemic, when you didn't even know if you'd be open the next week. But 


Steve Baker  35:44



Ari Weinzweig  35:45

In a general sense, the forecasting is, as I learned from you guys, I mean, it should be pushing us to get to greatness. But it can't be, it's not going to work if it's a made up fantasy. So if our NLP was 2%, last year, and I say next year is gonna be 20. And there's not like some concrete thing that's really shifting, it's not going to happen, I mean, saying we're gonna go from two to four makes sense, two to three makes sense, two to five might make sense to even two to six, but two to 20. Like, unless there's some massive contract coming in, it's not going to happen. So there's a creative tension always between the inspirational part, and the strategically sound part. As I have shared many times, if it's super inspiring, but you have no shot of getting there, we just call that a fantasy. And I like to honor those two, because we all have them, but it's not gonna happen, it's not gonna happen. So it doesn't mean block, the thought, it just means put the thought into the right place where you can use it, right? The third one is that we document it. This is what you have in the pamphlet are our four visions. It's like I said, it's what we didn't do in 1982. When we open, I would have done it, if I would have known, we kind of got lucky that we were as aligned as we were, but it's not the norm, many 


Steve Baker  37:03

Continuous improvement already. 


Ari Weinzweig  37:04

Well, many people start with good intentions. But then this can happen in marriages, too. I mean, it sounds good, it feels good. But you find out actually, you had a completely different idea how you want to live your life and you know, in a good way, like my girlfriend's a farmer. We don't have kids. So me working on the weekend, it doesn't make any difference. She's a farmer, you know, she likes her time alone. So do I, me staying late at work is fine, you know, but for other people, that would be horrific. They want a weekend off to do couples activities. And it's not a judgment one way or the other. It's just again, trying to be aligned with the vision that you have for yourself. So the third is writing it down. There's enormous power in this. I'll just stress, I kind of said it before, but one of the biggest misconceptions people take from this is they need to figure out their vision and then write it down. This is the other way is you don't need to know what it's going to say you just write. 


Steve Baker  38:05

That's the hot pen. 


Ari Weinzweig  38:06

That's the hot pen. And the best stuff comes out after you've been writing for a while. And if you just keep writing, stuffs gonna come out, so but having it documented is so powerful, because you can go over it with your new staff that helps you make decisions. People can help you when they want to help you instead of giving you advice to do everything you didn't want to do, but they don't know you didn't want to do, etc., right, you can marshal your resources more effectively, it's far less stressful to make a decision. Like when Disney, and this is not made up. And when they reached out for us to open there. It was like the vision already says we're not open outside Ann Arbor. So there's not, it was a 15 minute conversation, you know, and if we didn't have that vision, it would be a long set of arguments and analyses and pro and con lists. And at the end, somebody would you know, we would say, okay, I can't stand it anymore, just whatever, you know, one way or the other. But then there's a lot of regret and a lot of anxiety and unresolved issues. And by having clarity of what we wanted is much easier to say we don't want this, right. And then the fourth element is that we communicate it, which is incredibly powerful. Like I go you know, it's another podcast, but I wrote an essay on why I still teach the new staff orientation class. It's up on the Zingerman's press eight. It's part of part four of the leadership book, which is on beliefs. And I start to realize as I was working on that police book, like, that class where I teach it is hugely impacting the beliefs of the people we hired about everything from business to leaders to themselves to the future, to their opinion matters, like all this stuff, and it's not magic, but in there, I share the vision, right? This is where we're going. So you know, Even people at upper level. It's, I mean, if there's one in 300, that worked somewhere where they actually had a vision that was shared with them, and I'm not talking, by the way, we didn't really make clear, but this is not the five line vision statement, with all due respect that they teach in business school, 


Steve Baker  38:09



Ari Weinzweig  38:11

This is a story. So like our's for 2032 is 10 pages long. Now I don't read them the whole vision, there's whatever 12 bullet points. So I talked to the headlines, and then I let them read it on their own time. But the point is, like, I'm telling them where we're going, and why it matters and how their work matters. And if they don't like it, wouldn't you rather find out in the beginning? 


Steve Baker  40:46



Ari Weinzweig  40:47

That said, most of them are blown away. They're blown away that the owner of the company would actually care enough about them to take the time to talk to them about where the organization is going, they're blown away, because they've never worked anywhere that had a vision. 


Steve Baker  41:04



Ari Weinzweig  41:06

They're blown away, because it starts to shape their own beliefs about themselves. Because this is really a different way to be in the world. And everybody who's getting to greatness as a human being, whether it's in poetry, or professional basketball, or remanufacturing engines, all of them have a vision, like, and Jack doesn't write it down the way we do, but he has a vision in his head, and he's quite great at getting it. So this is true in basketball. Like I said, it's true of political leaders. It's true of public school teachers, it's true in the church, like whoever is doing great work, they imagine this future. So really, as we teach this to the new people coming in, it's basically giving them a life skill. Because the belief system of the world is mostly what's wrong. I'm a victim, who's keeping me from getting there. It's their fault. And the people who get ahead in life, are always imagining the future and not letting themselves be pushed back by that, but they're the minority. And so what's come from that is the I would suggest inaccurate belief that there's this, you know, 2% of brilliant visionary leaders, and if I can swear on here, is bullshit.  I Encourage it. I've, okay, I've managed to keep myself from doing it for the first 40 minutes. But anyway, it's bullshit because anybody can do this. And we, we, as a society, push these people to the top when the reality is we need to get it out of ourselves. And I'm not down on people being great leaders. I mean, there's a lot of people I look up to, and if I listened to Martin Luther King speak still all these years later, like I can't listen without tears forming in my eyes, you know, but, but my point is just that the most disengaged staff member you have, the one you don't even know why you hired, they are capable of doing this. And I've taught this now to and we teach it at ZingTrain, and they've probably taught more than I have, but I've taught it to a lot of people including at The Gathering. I've taught it to young people, older people, I've taught it to people in manufacturing, I've taught it to teachers. I've taught it in Ethiopia, I taught it in Ireland. I taught it in Slovakia, like it's it's a universal skill. And I am not joking. I have never had anyone who sat and did this that didn't come up with something pretty good. Now, did they go implement it? Not always. But the point is just that everybody has a dream inside them. And most of them go through life being mad that the dream didn't happen. First, they're mad at themselves. They're mad at their boss, they're mad at their significant other, they're mad at society. They're mad at the president, they're mad at you know, but at the end of the day, it's up to us, right? And so this is a tool that can help us get clarity. Like you said, it works at home, too. So writing a personal vision that you and your spouse agree on. This makes sense. And I mean, in a super dumb practical level, like I've said this before, but like if you're for your vacation,  Oh. Because here's here's a real life scenario, like if we're going on vacation to Paris, and there's two of you, and it's one of your earlier vacations in your relationship. Here's a very likely scenario like if you're one of the people and you're like me, my vision of vacation in Paris for a week is we're hitting all these stores. I got a whole list. These are the restaurants I want to go, these are the cafes and bakeries I want to go to these are the markets I want to go to and I thought maybe on Tuesday in the afternoon we could go to the Louvre for a couple hours. I mean,  it's could be horribly different than someone elses, but you know.  you know. But it's it's not unlikely if you haven't gotten clarity that the other person is totally legit, has a list of 17 museums to go to because there's some awesome museums. And they're like, yeah, sure you want to go to that restaurant and Monday, whatever. But here's what I got going. And they're both fine. And if your vision is you both do your own thing and get back together for dinner, that's fine, too. But if you're mad at each other for a week, because one wanted something completely incompatible with the other, and that's, you know, seemingly silly, but actually could easily happen. Examples, somebody listening right now is going that happened to me. You know, but think about it in business like Paul and I really lucked out in a lot of ways in 1982, because we didn't discuss how much we wanted our salaries to be in 10 years. We didn't discuss that we weren't gonna like, franchise really, or whatever, you know, we kind of did we had that sense of it. But I mean, there's all these things that we could have parted ways two years in or four years in. And I'm not saying it's all luck. I mean, it's a lot of work and learning to collaborate and communicate effectively. But the visioning helps to really reduce the odds of things going awry.


Steve Baker  46:14

Well, I have, a that's, that's awesome. Actually had that conversation with a group we had in Springfield yesterday about use the analogy of a vacation. I'm like, Have you ever been on one where you planned it talked about it? And you know, in so many words, we said the same thing that you just talked about. And then have you ever known someone or gone on a vacation that that was just now we're just going to make it up as we go? And how horrible that can be? 


Ari Weinzweig  46:39

Well, if you want to do that, like I did that when I was 19, in Europe, and it's awesome, because that was my vision was I didn't know where I was gonna go. 


Steve Baker  46:49



Ari Weinzweig  46:49

Your vision is to have every hotel planned the year in advance. It's a nightmare.


Steve Baker  46:54

Yeah, exactly. Exactly. So I have to say, there's got to be a listener out there going okay, do, Ari I hear ya, I get ya yet. I want to do it. I know it's the right thing. But I am way too busy to make this happen. What would you say to them? What advice would you give to somebody that's just dying to get started visioning?


Ari Weinzweig  47:16

Well, remind me before we finish, they do want to talk about building cathedrals. But the quick answer is it takes less time to get your draft done than it took you to listen to this podcast, which with all due respect to me and Steve. I've had people telling me, they don't have time. And I have friends who've been telling me for five years, they don't have time. I'm like, I don't know what y'all do. But it takes an hour. Right? To get your draft done. Even if you've never used it, you will feel better. Because your brain is overstuffed with seemingly conflicting thoughts, instead of getting it out into a coherent manner. That said,  That's awesome.  in ten minutes, and I don't know if you were there, I actually did this Great Game. Yeah. Because I really wanted people to experience it. Because as per what's going to happen in the podcast, they'll listen, a lot of people will listen, it will sound good. A few, some will order the pamphlet. But don't, you know, the typical person won't make the time to do it in the same way that everybody thinks it's a good idea to get in shape. But you actually have to go to work out. The good news is, the working out is a couple of years of regular working out. But the vision, it is work. I'm not gonna say you just drafted and your whole company jumps up and down and says it's great. But the point is that when I did it at that Gathering, I give think I gave people seven minutes and people's brains lit up. Right?


Steve Baker  48:50

I know, three people personally from that meeting. And there were hundreds in the audience. I know three, who wrote a vision that day, they're still living out today. 


Ari Weinzweig  49:00



Steve Baker  49:00

That was many years ago. 


Ari Weinzweig  49:01

That's incredibly powerful. So there's, it takes longer to complain that you don't have time than it takes to write it.


Steve Baker  49:09

Love it. Well, before I always like to do a recap of what I've learned. But I'd love for you to share with folks. But and I'd like to help sell some of your of your new book. How do they find it? 


Ari Weinzweig  49:22

Yeah, so let me let me sneak in there. So because we didn't get to it, it's just so in the ecosystem metaphor, there's really looking at everything and trying to be aligned, are organizations aligned with nature, as I've come to look at and I wrote this in the pamphlet, the vision is essentially the one thing that you and I, as humans create within the ecosystem. So it's, it's the building that we decide to build. It's the cathedral that we want to create. And of course, then it's obvious. It needs to be beautiful. It's got to be aligned with the ecosystem, right? So with all due respect to franchises, they're the same whether it's in Springfield, Missouri, San Francisco, or Saudi Arabia, it doesn't look any different. And I'm not down on that. But like, nobody looks at that and goes, this is awesome architecture. Right? It's convenient if you happen to be there and you'd like that franchise, but so it's essentially the cathedral that we're working to construct. And we want to do it in a way that's true to us. But that's also true to the ecosystem that we're in. To answer your question directly. So well, let me, you I'm sure you have shownotes but my email is people are more than welcome to reach out and ask questions. I am an introvert. But, as Maggie from ZingTrain said, once you don't go on social media, you just give your email out because I like one on one conversations, but I don't need to tell the whole world every day with each. Secondly, Because as you brought up earlier, we do our own, has all the books and the pamphlets. has the books and the pamphlets. And if anybody's listening that has a store of any sort that wants to sell them, we'd be glad to wholesale them to you too. So if you got a cool business, it doesn't have to be a bookstore, we've got an art gallery that sells them, in New Orleans, we get a wine shop in New York, that's going to start selling them there. So we like to work with people whose values are aligned with ours and want something that's not in every other shop in town. And so reach out that way too. And then also you can put I'm sure in the show notes, as you know, I do an E News every week. The first essay of the five pieces is something about leadership or life. Yesterday I wrote about despair, which is not a fun or easy topic, but the reality of our lives is that we feel it sometimes. So I put that out there that's free and so people can email me if they want or just go on There's a way to sign up for that too.


Steve Baker  51:55

Good, good, good. Those are great connections. So with your permission, I'm going to run through some of the things I pulled from today's conversation because I always learned something new. I'm always coming away inspired.


Ari Weinzweig  52:07

Before you do that though, I should add the obvious, which is not obvious, which is is where people order food, which is what we really do.  Now, that's perfect.  So I don't want to forget, you can order some great bread or coffee cake or olive oil or cheese or whatever, from  Or some magic brownies. That's another podcast  But the pamphlets and stuff Zingerman's press or ZingTrain Okay, perfect. First thing I pulled out was the healthiest ecosystems are the most diverse and are aligned with the laws of nature. And you kind of recap that. The natural laws of business include continuous improvement and you keep getting better all the time. This new pamphlet is a result of that. The recipe for visioning that's in the front of the pamphlet includes hot pen or free writing, is just letting yourself write, and ZingTrain courses, you're you're really pushing folks to keep writing, it's a draft, give yourself permission to get it out on paper, you can edit it later. And you said that the best stuff comes out after you've been writing for a while, I can attest to that it's you gotta get the junk out. Just get it all out there and then then figure it out later. Without a vision you don't get engagement, passion, or execution that you really want so write your own story, live the life of your choosing, it feels better. Or you said that you vision everything from starting a business to writing a book, even succession planning I think this is something that that a lot of listeners, business owners right now they're all in transition or denial. So it's a great new pamphlet for them to reuse. You could write a for your retirement.


Steve Baker  53:41

Yeah, exactly.


Ari Weinzweig  53:42

 Three years down the road. How did it go when you left? What are you doing now?


Steve Baker  53:46

Love it, love it describing what it looks like and feels like makes it easier to make happen, still work. The means need to be congruous with the ends, yelling at a server to get better service is ridiculous and dude, I am so aligned with you on that. I don't know we don't even go to dinner with some people because of that. 


Ari Weinzweig  54:04



Steve Baker  54:05

Are you or means congruous with your ends. So really look at that, folks, when you're looking at this the four elements of visioning, they need to be inspiring, they need to be strategically sound, they need to be documented. They need to be communicated and often and forever. Keep in mind that visioning is not the five line vision statement. Most companies have Zingerman's  2032 vision is 10 pages long. The people who get ahead in life, remember I'm just I'm pulling things out as 


Ari Weinzweig  54:34

Yeah, you're doing great. 


Steve Baker  54:37

The people who get ahead in life don't play the victim. I think this is really an important when they formed their own vision of what life can be and pursue it. It takes less time to write a draft of your vision than to complain about it or to listen to this podcast. So you've got to choose to do the work if you want to get the results. How'd I do? Is that alright?


Ari Weinzweig  54:57

You did awesome. The only minor correction is just the list of the recipes near the back of the pamphlet but the visioning, the vision for the pamphlet is in the front. 


Steve Baker  55:07

Okay, thank you. I will fix that in the shownotes.


Ari Weinzweig  55:09

and I'm only saying that because somebody's gonna look in the front they're like it's not here. 


Steve Baker  55:12

Where's the recipe Baker. So to reach Ari, it's 


Ari Weinzweig  55:18



Steve Baker  55:20

To get the new pamphlet, go to or


Ari Weinzweig  55:26



Steve Baker  55:26

Order delicious food from 


Ari Weinzweig  55:30



Steve Baker  55:30

And subscribe to the E News. And I believe that was 


Ari Weinzweig  55:36

Yeah, or just email me and I'll get you on there. It's free. So either. 


Steve Baker  55:40

Alright, that sounds great. Well, Ari, as usual, I could talk to you all day. Thank you for sharing your wisdom and your experience with us. Let's do it again soon.


Ari Weinzweig  55:49

It's a pleasure, man. I'm sure we will. Give my best everybody down there. And thank you for what you're doing. And let's try to keep going forward and positive ways.


Steve Baker  55:58

Fantastic. We will do it again. Well, folks, let's keep the conversation going. Send us your questions, your stories, your best practices, ideas, your challenges, and especially your victories. These are capitalism at its best. So thanks for joining us, and we'll see you next time.


Ari Weinzweig  56:14

The change the game podcast is produced by the Great Game of Business. To learn more, visit



Topics: Planning, Pandemic, business, natural law, vision

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Hosted by Rich Armstrong and Steve Baker the Change the Game podcast highlights true life stories of organizations influencing positive change by doing business differently. They’re teaching people how business works and closing the gap between the haves and have-nots. It’s capitalism at its best. Inside each episode, you’ll discover stories of entrepreneurs who are Changing the Game.

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