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Ari Weinzweig believes aspiring leaders should never sacrifice their core beliefs in order to achieve success. On the contrary, they should embrace and celebrate these beliefs, then use them to ignite their organizations.
After all, how can entrepreneurs expect to make an impact if they simply trudge down the same path blazed many times before? Not only has it already been done—it’s also missing authenticity. Ari believes there’s a better way to do business, and that’s by being yourself—completely.
The co-owner and co-founder of Zingerman’s Community of Businesses, Ari is also the author of books including the Zingerman’s Guide to Good Leading series and the Zingerman’s Guide to Good Eating, a contributor to magazines like Fine Cooking and Food and Wine, a recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award from Bon Appetit, a mentor, a noted speaker and so much more.
However, a quick conversation proves Ari’s success has never gone to his head. Casually peppering his words with profound insights from his favorite anarchist authors or leadership lessons, Ari’s perspective is refreshingly honest, down to earth and transparent. He’s also proof that running a business your own way can work—we just need to be courageous enough to defy the status quo.
“Most of us continue to do every day what we’ve been trained to do,” Ari says, “until one day, we realize there’s another way to do it.”
Building a Small Business Empire
Ari didn’t always have entrepreneurial ambition. In fact, after graduating from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Ari just wanted to pay the bills so he could avoid moving home to Chicago. That’s what led him to take a job as a dishwasher at a local restaurant.
As he learned the inner-workings of the food industry, Ari started making his way up the ladder, eventually landing a managerial position. He also met Paul Saginaw, who would later become Ari’s partner at Zingerman’s.
For several years, Paul and Ari traded ideas about someday opening up a place of their own. Then, after space in a historic building opened up, they decided to grasp the opportunity.
In 1982, Ari and Paul opened the doors of Zingerman’s Deli with two employees. With a steadfast commitment to extraordinary ingredients, a strong tie to the local community and a creative-minded culture, Zingerman’s was instantly a resounding success.
Since then, Zingerman’s expanded not by replicating the deli, but by integrating their mission and guiding principles into entirely new local businesses including a coffee house, bake shop, catering company, training center, creamery and more. They named it the Zingerman’s Community of Businesses.
Over 35 years and 700 employees later, the Zingerman’s Community of Businesses continues to thrive and currently boasts over $65 million in annual revenue.
Creation Through Non-Conformity
Ari Weinzweig loves anarchy. He’s spent countless hours browsing the University of Michigan’s Joseph A. Labadie Collection of anarchist literature—one of the nation’s largest—and applies his gained wisdom to his life and his business practices.
But don’t confuse his brand of anarchic ideology with any preconceived notions involving chaos, destruction or tearing down the government. Instead, his brand of anarchy is about all about equality, community and refusing to “follow the rule because it’s the rule … I don’t think anybody really likes being told what to do,” says Ari.
Still, when it comes to the corporate world, aspiring entrepreneurs often conform quickly to expectations, as if giving up their past ideals is the necessary price of achieving success. Ari wholeheartedly rejects this mindset for himself, for others and for his organization.
“[There’s] this weird incongruity between like, it’s good to be a free thinker and you should make your own decisions—but not that one,” says Ari. “It’s no different [at Zingerman’s]. We want people to develop, grow and pursue their dreams.”
He supports his employees’ individual freedom, even if that means openly discussing a future path that leads away from the company. “Sometimes their dream is to leave, which I’m okay with,” he says. “It’s not necessarily what I wanted—but ultimately it is what I wanted.”
How Positive Beliefs Can Change a Company
“What you believe alters what you see or experience,” says Ari. From personal relationships to corporate leadership, our beliefs influence everything in our lives. What we believe not only affects our own choices, but the actions and emotions of everyone around us. Positive beliefs create positive outcomes, while negative beliefs create the exact opposite.
For example, if an anxious new hire believes their manager dislikes her—and the manager’s neutral or negative attitude does little to convince her otherwise—the new hire will assume the lack of positive feedback means those assumptions are correct.
Maybe there’s validity behind the new hire’s concerns. Maybe there’s none. Either way, she’s going to internalize those feelings. Those feelings will manifest as action. As the stress mounts, her demeanor flounders and work suffers. Whether or not the manager actually had negative feelings becomes irrelevant, since the new hire’s reaction hinders her performance regardless.
Ari calls this a self-fulfilling belief cycle.
“The self-fulfilling belief cycle is just what it sounds like,” Ari says. “We self-fulfill into creating much of our reality. I’m not saying we create all the problems, but a lot of the things that are going on in our lives start with our own beliefs, not with other people’s behaviors.
“Part of that is realizing that we all filter information based on what we believe. We filter out all the information that doesn’t support our beliefs … or you actually go seek out information that supports our beliefs.”
Sure, positive thinking on the new hire’s part could’ve changed the cycle. But if the manager instilled more positivity, everything would’ve changed as well. After all, isn’t it the leader’s role to inspire?
Let’s be the leaders that set our people up for success. By confidently believing in them, they’ll believe in themselves as well.
The Creativity of Better Businesses
“If people looked at their lives and their organizations like they were creating art, they would start to notice a lot more. They would probably be a lot more mindful of what they do.”
There’s a divide between the arts and the corporate world. Many leaders believe in the already defined structures that keep companies running, and think that creativity is a skill best reserved for the weekends.
But what if thinking so rigidly keeps us from seeing the whole picture? By following the same rules and same routines, are we too hyper-focused on getting things done instead of doing them better? What if creativity is what makes a good business great?
Ari believes all business leaders can learn from artists. That’s not to say all CEOs should necessarily sign up for painting classes. Instead, think about your organization as an elaborate song with countless tiny, yet essential, parts. If one note is flat, the piece falters. If every note is flat, the song turns into a disaster.
“A painting isn’t this instantaneous creation. It’s an enormous amount of work over an extended period of time. A song doesn’t just doesn’t emerge finished … they’re still paying enormous attention to what all of those little things are.”
“People who go into [business] only for the money rarely create great art,” says Ari, and it’s usually true. Leaders need to tap into the joy of building something for the love of it—not just for status or wealth. And wouldn’t leadership be more interesting—and more fun—if tasks were treated as creative exercises, rather than just obligations waiting to be checked off a list?
The best creatives trust their instincts and they trust themselves. “My strong belief is that everybody in their hearts [knows what] what they want,” says Ari. It’s a mentality he holds as dearly today as he did as a young anarchist in 1982, and it’s not going anywhere.
Want to hear my entire conversation with Ari Weinzweig? You’ll learn more about how he launched Zingerman’s, what authors have influenced him, why anyone can build a more creative, purpose-driven business culture and so much more. Listen to the entire conversation on my donothing podcast.
Connect with me on Twitter and LinkedIn and keep up with my company imageOne here. Learn about my mission to show business leaders how mindfulness can transform you and your business in my book donothing. Visit www.donothingbook.com for more information.
April 15, 2019 at 08:09AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs