A Look Back at Natural Law #11

April 28th, 2021 by jtubbs


A note from Ari

I’ve been working a lot of late, as many of you know, on a “new” list of additional Natural Laws. So far I’ve shared #13 (It’s all out of control)#18 (Everything is naturally related and interconnected), and #19 (Everything—and every one of us—is imperfect). Although many of these organizational laws of nature started coming clear to me years ago, it’s taken me a long while to be ready to write about them in public. Which, I realize as I start this piece, is most certainly in synch with today’s subject—a look back at Natural Law #11 from the original list of twelve:

It generally takes a lot longer to make something great happen than people think

Natural Law #11 is on my mind in part because of a couple of conversations I’ve had with leadership teams in organizations around the country of late. They’re uniformly, I believe, good people whose hearts and minds are definitely in the right places. They know the kinds of positive cultural changes they want to help make happen. But in all three cases, I feel in their energy (if maybe not in their words) that they’re not quite yet ready to accept just how long it’s going to take to make those changes happen. I can relate. Like many leaders, I’m impatient for progress to be made once it seems clear what needs to be done. And yet, with Natural Law #11 in mind, I remind folks that making meaningful change in organizational culture, whether we like it or not, takes a long time. Even here in our imperfect organization where we regularly teach our change management recipe, it still takes about three years for a cultural change to really sink roots.

While we don’t have to like them, Natural Laws, I believe, are simply true. And as environmental historian Donald Worster writes, “We can no more get out of a relationship with nature than we can get out of history.” Here’s a small bit of what I said on the subject of Natural Law #11 in Secret #1 in Part 1:

Early on in our work together Paul [Saginaw] taught me that, in his view, “Professionalism means sticking with something long after the glamour has worn off.” …Companies start stuff all the time. But few stick with a change or innovation long enough to really make it work. I don’t mean that longevity alone is enough to make something succeed—just that even the best ideas take a long time to really get going.

Later, working on Part 3 it became clear to me that the Natural Laws weren’t just about organizations—they applied to each of us as individuals as well! Here’s a bit of what I wrote on the subject in Secret #36:

People who are committed to achieving amazing things in their lives understand that they aren’t going to get to greatness quickly. While they may be impatient, they learn to embrace that impatience, and stick with their work for the long haul. Giving up may cross their minds any number of times, but they continue on in the belief that they’re going to eventually get to where they’ve committed to going.

It’s not hard to understand why most of us have a hard time making peace with this. The popular press likes to play up the moments at which stars burst successfully onto the scene, brilliantly changing the landscape of their chosen field. The reality is that this moment of glory almost always comes only after a whole lot of hard work and diligent self-improvement. Good things, whether we like it or not, usually take a very long while to develop. Even Albert Einstein, a generally acknowledged genius, embodied the import of this natural law. “It’s not that I’m so smart,” he said, “it’s that I stay with problems longer.”

Over the years, it has become very clear to me that, in line with this Natural Law, in nature, big things that happen quickly are almost always bad. Floods, tornados, and hurricanes. Pandemics. While small bits of beauty are happening every minute—a new bud on a branch, the sun sneaking out from behind the clouds, a puppy playing—lasting, long term, positive change almost always takes a lot longer to take hold. To attain mastery in any field—cooking or conducting an orchestra—simply takes a long time. I know that Anders Erickson’s research on “10,000 hours” (famously written up by Malcolm Gladwell) has been, at times, misrepresented, but my hands-on, real-life experience tells me that it’s essentially accurate. People who are truly getting to sustainable, meaningful achievement have done about 10,000 hours of work towards a vision of greatness of their own choosing. The same goes for groups. It’s true with basketball players and it’s true in business.

Ironically, people often hold up Zingerman’s as an example of a business “rocketing to overnight success.” But honestly, our history shows anything but. We started super small—me and Paul and two staffers with $22,000 in loans. We worked for four years in our tiny 1300-square-foot space. Most of the 39 years we’ve been in business we’ve grown organizationally at about 8 to 10 percent. While people in 2021 see us as insightful or even prescient for putting out products that are now so widely popular, it took many years to get meaningful traction with most all of them.

The news, I know, generally leads one to believe the opposite—I remind myself regularly not to be fooled by headlines that promote overnight successes. One example of this of late is the work on Covid vaccines. Deep, deep appreciation to all the scientists who worked countless hours to come up with them within a year! That said, if you read more about their work, it turns out that there’s more to the story than what we’ve heard about in the last twelve months. Many of the key players like Dr. Katalin Karikó have been working on the technology behind the vaccines for decades. Dr. Karikó is a Hungarian immigrant to the U.S. The daughter of a butcher in the small town of Kisújszállás, she got her PhD at the University of Szeged, in the heartland of paprika country and has been working at the University of Pennsylvania for decades now. CNN said:

She was demoted, doubted and rejected. Now, her work is the basis of the COVID-19 vaccine… Through multiple setbacks, job losses, doubt and a transatlantic move, Karikó stood by her conviction: That mRNA could be used for something truly groundbreaking. Now, that work is the basis of the COVID-19 vaccine… Karikó’s idea that it could be used to fight disease was deemed too radical, too financially risky to fund.

I don’t understand the science behind her work, but I am vaccinated, which makes me one of the millions who are benefitting from Dr. Karikó’s commitment to stay the course. Her willingness to embrace what we’re referring to as Natural #11 is, without exaggeration, helping to save the world. Most of us will not have the impact of Dr. Karikó. But living in harmony with Natural Law #11 does make a meaningful difference. Embracing, freely, that the work we’re about to undertake is likely to take a very long time to really come to fruition has a significant impact on our day-to-day lives. A small shift in acceptance and understanding, applied over an extended period, can make a big impact.

  • It fits our visioning process

    Years after we wrote our 2009 vision in 1994, Stas’ Kazmierski, who had generously taught us how to do it, said he couldn’t believe that we had gone fifteen years into the future. I asked why. “Most folks, I can barely convince them to do five years. You guys went for fifteen!” Three months ago, we formally rolled out our vision for 2032, which will put us in the year in which we will celebrate our 50th anniversary. Committing to a long term future helps us hold course, and avoid the tendency to change direction every time someone promotes a hot new trend or throws us some offer that’s “too good to turn down!”

  • It can boost our energy

    You might think that taking the long view would exhaust you, but it turns out to be the other way around. Ellen Langer, in her book Mindfulness, wrote that when we knowingly approach the “end” of something, humans have a natural tendency to lose energy. Which helped me understand one reason (there are many others; see Secret #20 and #21) why I’m able to sustain high energy over long periods of time—I plan to be working hard and contributing to our world for a long time to come. In the best possible way there’s “no end in sight,” and my energy for learning and contributing is honestly as high now as when we started out 39 years ago. Maybe higher. Committing to long term mastery makes a difference. As Daniel Coyle writes in The Talent Code, “when we envision ourselves doing it far into the future, we are tapping into a massive evolutionary energy source.”

  • It helps us be more mindful in the moment

    It may sound counterintuitive, but I believe it’s true—understanding that we have years of meaningful, freely chosen, hard work ahead of us gives us mental space to be more present in the moment and appreciate tiny bits of beauty and loveliness as they unfold. If you understand that it will take a long time for the forest to really come to fruition, then your mind may likely be freed to appreciate the magic of a single flower popping up in the spring.

  • It helps focus us on small meaningful steps forward

    When we’re looking for quick success, we try to find superstars, and we seek out headlines. We try to be the hare in the old fable. When we understand this is a long process, we take more notice of the tortoise. It’s helped me to stay patient with people who continue to make slow, steady, positive progress in their learning and the quality of their work. Or as John Lewis said, “…If you’re a pilot light, you’re going to be around. A firecracker coming along in you, and just—go off. You’re here one moment and you’re gone in the next moment.”

  • It helps us think more holistically about the impact of our actions

    When we know we’re going to stick with things for a long time to come, we’re much more willing to invest energy and other resources that may not show short term returns. Some organizations keep searching for world changing superstars. I’m not opposed, but Natural Law #11 leads me to look first to improved systems design, better training, more consistent coaching, clarifying expectations, caring conversations, etc. As poet Gary Snyder (who will celebrate his 91st birthday on May 8) says, “The best way, maybe the only way, to change a situation is to imagine, even to declare that you will stay where you are, in your locale, the rest of your life.” When we do that, we think a lot more carefully and act much more respectfully, of our surroundings. If we’re here today and gone tomorrow, most of our actions may appear to make no difference. By contrast, if we’re committed to sticking with things for the long haul, we’re likely to pay a whole lot more attention to everyday activities.

  • It helps us reshape the beliefs of those we hire

    Many people you hire are likely to hold beliefs that are not aligned with Natural Law #11. I’m not blaming them—they’ve merely listened to what they hear from friends, family, and the alerts they get on their phones. Unfortunately, they’re a bit like a runner who’s been led to believe they’re about to do a 100 yard dash, only to find out they’ve signed up for a marathon. If we can help our staff understand that people who get to greatness stick with whatever they’re doing and bust their butt with lots of practice in pursuit of the beauties and benefits of long term mastery, they might just take a few deep breaths, recenter their expectations, and start the mindful steady progress towards their goals that’s required to really make headway.

Hazim Tugun, who’s worked at the Bakehouse for over 4 years now, shared this lovely story that illustrates the point:

One of the most rewarding (and challenging) parts of my job is to create new breads. I simply love it. The creativity of it goes hand-in-hand in a balanced kind of way with my science loving/facts-based, engineering-trained brain. So, you can imagine how blissful it was for me when I pulled out the first test loaves of Country Miche from the oven. It takes quite a bit of work to translate these bits of creativity into production. It’s still a work-in-progress after four years. At the beginning, there were many times when I would feel down because a batch would not turn out, or those that did turn out would not sell well. I would compare it to our other breads, like Farm, and say to myself, ‘So much work to get 10 proper loaves of Miche and we are not even selling all of them, while Farm is selling by the 100s!’

When I would share my frustration with [co-managing partner] Frank, he would gently, in his reassuring way, tell me that the Miche is still in its infancy, that we should let it grow, that after only a couple of years of baking it, that we would get good (not great yet!) at it and we would start selling more of it. So, we stuck with it and kept tweaking it too slightly along the way to make it even better. Now, I am happy to say, there are days that we may not have enough lined proofing baskets to bake a day’s order! We have come so far, and we still have far to go. Like Frank would remind us, the Miche is the future in our bread world. Reflecting on it, it just shows me that getting to that greatness really takes longer than one thinks it would or should.

Hazim has helped make Natural Law #11 come alive in such lovely ways. I should add that, while commercial breads can rise in just 3-4 hours, it takes nearly 20 hours for the Miche dough to rise properly! Toast a slice of that marvelous Country Miche bread (one of my favorites) and make a toast to Hazim, Dr. Karikó, Gary Snyder, and so many others whose determination to continue to develop their craft long, long after any glamour had gone, has added so much beauty to our world. Their patience, persistence and pursuit of excellence—usually in the face of much naysaying and resistance—has contributed enormously to all of our lives.

I’ll leave you with this lovely bit from poet Amanda Gorman who seems at first glance to be another young phenom, an overnight success from her reading at the Inauguration in January. But if we pay her the respect she—and I believe every person—deserves, it’s worth looking deeper into her story. If you do you will find that although she’s only 23, it’s actually a testament to Natural Law #11. Amanda Gorman, it turns out, started writing stories at the age of five. At 16 she applied to be the L.A. Youth Poet Laureate. Is she talented? Totally. But I’m going to bet there were many other 5-year-old poets around the county who might have had comparable talent. While most gave up, Amanda Gorman kept going. And by the time she went to Washington a few months ago, she had invested 17 years of hard work in mastering her craft. Amanda Gorman, of course, is not that one poem. She has done a great deal of other wonderful work that’s well deserving of our attention. And she will, I forecast, do much more in the many decades to come. Yes, she’s young. But don’t forget that she’s worked hard at her freely-chosen field or work for nearly two decades now! As Ms. Gorman writes:

When day comes we step out of the shade,
aflame and unafraid
The new dawn blooms as we free it
For there is always light,
if only we’re brave enough to see it
If only we’re brave enough to be it

Send a leadership book bundle

You’ll find more on the Natural Laws in Secret #1 in Part 1 and Secret #36 on Part 3.

Looking for a great gift for the leader in your life? Now’s the time to order a bundle of Parts 1, 2, 3 and 4 for $100, or a set of all 33 pamphlets!

Another Look at Servant Leadership

October 29th, 2020 by jtubbs

A Timeless Philosophy That Would Be of Great Help Here in the 21st Century

One of the most common themes of the last six months is how different things are going to be after the pandemic. I keep hearing how we need new thinking to get out of the current situation. But the interesting thing to me is that there’s more than enough insightful old thinking already out there to help all of us move forward to more positive places.
Zingerman's Guide to Good Leading, Part 2: Being a Better Leader, on the counter at the Roadhouse with a masked chef giving thumbs up on the line.
In 1970, at the age of 65, Robert Greenleaf published the first of many pieces on what he had started to call “Servant Leadership.” In 1977 his full book, Servant Leadership was put into print. A decade or so later, Paul Saginaw read it. Shortly thereafter he passed it on to me to do the same. While the formal ideas and language around Servant Leadership were new to us, what we read was actually aligned with what he and I had already been quietly—almost unconsciously—thinking. Greenleaf gave us the words with which we could much more effectively put our partially formed thoughts into action. Our philosophy at Zingerman’s has evolved a lot since those early days, but Servant Leadership continues to be one of the centerpieces. Today, Greenleaf’s approach remains an uncommon—and yet, highly effective—way to work. If, and when, we put it to action, it has the power to alter almost everything that happens, in our organizations and our communities.

Here’s what I’ve been thinking of late. If Greenleaf’s idea of Servant Leadership was the norm, not the exception, in business and in our communities, the world would be a whole lot different place—kinder, more collaborative, and more effective. Greenleaf once said, “a good society would be dominated by the servant [leadership] idea.” I agree. If you’re drawn to what we do here at Zingerman’s; if you’re looking to build a more caring and coherent team at work; if you believe generosity and compassion can coexist with clear expectations and gentle but firm pressure to perform for the sake of the greater good, then Servant Leadership is one of the tools you might explore.

It’s eight or nine years ago now that we put Secret #23 in Part 2 of the Guide to Good Leading into print. It’s my look at Servant Leadership and the way we use it here at Zingerman’s, along with the six elements of Servant Leadership to which we hold ourselves accountable here. Here’s a small bit of what I wrote in the essay:

The phrase “Servant Leadership” may sound like one of those nice throw-aways they always write into the opening section of employee manuals. But please don’t let any perception of passivity fool you—Servant Leadership is very strong stuff. If you really live it, Servant Leadership changes everything. . . . Servant Leadership is, quite simply, one of the easiest ways I know to help make our organization more effective, and the world a better place in the process. Best of all, it’s free. You can make an enormous impact without investing anything other than your own intellectual and emotional energy.

The basic belief of Servant Leadership is that our job as leaders is—first and foremost—to serve our organization. To paraphrase John Kennedy’s magnificent, 1961 inaugural speech, “Ask not what your organization can do for you. Ask what you can do for your organization.” To those who already think that way, this statement might sound obvious, or even inevitable, but in my experience, it’s actually neither. In fact, in most traditional organizations the service flows in the other direction—the rest of the organization exists primarily to serve the needs of its leaders. In a servant-led world, by contrast, we do the opposite—here, we serve the organization. Instead of just being about the boss, Servant Leadership is about success for all involved.

Knowing me as many of you do, you might imagine that Robert Greenleaf was an active part of a Russian emigrant anarchist collaborative on the East Coast. But he was neither an immigrant, nor part of any New York intelligentsia. To the contrary, Greenleaf grew up in rural America. The man who developed the idea of Servant Leadership was born in the small Indiana town of Terre Haute in 1904, on the 14th of July, and he worked all of his formal, 38-year-long career with the rather mainstream AT&T. He was quite religious and most photos of him show him in offices or classrooms wearing a suit and tie. No protest signs, no sit ins, no arrests. And yet, mainstream as he might have seemed to a casual observer, Greenleaf was anything but a status-quo thinker. One AT&T president described him as the company’s “kept revolutionary.” I’m pretty sure Greenleaf wouldn’t have ever considered himself an anarchist, but there are huge overlaps with what he wrote about and what I would lay down as a core set of beliefs for myself. Over half a century ago, Greenleaf was concerned about the quality of life for people working in modern companies. He observed over and over again that there was “a decrease in creative and critical thinking and a separation of work and self by the worker.” It’s very much what later struck me as the “Energy Crisis in the Workplace” (Secret #19, in Part 2). He imagined Servant Leadership as a way to reverse that energy drain. It was intended to help both the organizations that used it and the people who were part of them. “I believe that people grow in these moral, perceptive, creative, and decisive qualities as they achieve the freedom to become themselves.” He was right. Servant Leadership has been shown over time to increase engagement, improve emotional health, and long term economics all at the same time.

Humility, a topic that is close to my heart right now, was both an integral element of Robert Greenleaf’s way of being in the world, and also of the philosophy he put forward to make the world a better place. I wrote in the new pamphlet, “Humility: A Humble, Anarchistic, Inquiry,” about 16 different methods in which we convey the value of humility and systemically reinforce it. One of them is Servant Leadership. Humility is a prerequisite for truly living Servant Leadership in meaningful ways. For himself, Greenleaf said, very humbly, “I’m just doing my part in my small way to help that necessary cultural change to happen.”

Speaking of doing his part, James Perry ran for Mayor of New Orleans on a progressive platform that was based on Servant Leadership. Perry shared:

Among the most important lessons I’ve learned from Dr. King is the example of servant leadership. A servant leader is one who offers an inclusive vision; listens carefully to others; persuades through reason; and heals divisions while building community. Martin Luther King, Jr. is an example of a servant leader. His life shows the extraordinary power of servant leadership to radically transform a nation. Our communities and our country need servant leadership more than ever. Deepening economic woes threaten the American dream for far too many working people. Racial divisions are embarrassingly persistent in too many aspects of our economic and social lives. Political despair is battering the uniquely American optimism that has made us a great nation. There are precious few servant leaders in our current political environment. Many elected officials are more interested in personal power, individual legacy, and financial gain than in the sacrifice and commitment that servant leadership requires.

In case you thought I pulled that out of yesterday’s paper, Mr. Perry wrote his piece ten years ago. It still stands now. Perry clearly makes the point that Servant Leadership is not new. And yet it’s anything but the norm. But it is life altering. James Autry, whose books had a big influence on me early on, said of Servant Leadership:

Once you recognize it and begin to work on it, you have to stop throughout the day and examine what your actions are. In order to be able to admit mistakes and to learn from others, no matter what their status . . . That’s a huge leap for a lot of people. It seems simple to say it, doesn’t it? But it’s difficult for us to fathom how challenging that is for some people who act out of ego. Because you are saying, “Put my ego in the drawer and I’m going to ask how you think it should be done; you, who are seventeen layers down in the hierarchy from me.”

I’ve been immersed (though I still fall short regularly) with Servant Leadership for so long that I forget there’s any other way to lead. My mistake. Reading through the New York Times over the weekend I came across a couple of quotes from upper-level leaders along the lines of “Bosses shouldn’t ever carry their own bags. It makes them look too ordinary,” and “I’m not worrying about the community or the employees. My responsibility is really only to the shareholders.” Seriously? I guess former Senator Alan Simpson wasn’t off base when he said, “Those who travel the high road of humility in Washington, D.C., are not bothered by heavy traffic.” While it clearly is not the national norm, I believe that to truly create a meaningfully connected, healthy organization, Servant Leadership must be in place. The idea of it is embedded in #4 on the list of Twelve Natural Laws that’s in Part 1 of the Guide to Good Leading. (There’s much more in Secret #1.)

So what would happen if we were to make Servant Leadership the norm? What if it was standard procedure to put Servant Leaders in high-level roles in every organization? What if we taught it to ten year-olds so that by the time we were 20, Servant Leadership was so obviously a better way to work that we’d just as soon abandon it as we would drive on the wrong side of the road?

Servant Leadership is very much a different way of thinking. In fact, as I wrote in Secret #23, I believe it’s actually a different language for leadership. And as linguist Edward Sapir smartly observed, different languages lead to different ways of thinking. And without different ways of thinking, we will not, as I said above, get different results. Gretchen Whitmer said a few days ago, “Words matter.” I believe things would be better for all of us if we just made Servant Leader and “leader” into veritable synonyms. Semanticist Alfred Korzybski said succinctly, “Definitions create conditions.” At the Philadelphia Freedom Schools they call college students “Servant Leader interns” and high school students “junior Servant Leaders.” Imagine if you or I had internalized the idea of Servant Leadership by the time we were 22? Imagine if almost everyone had.

Actually, I can answer that directly. This is what Zach Milner, who started at Zingerman’s four or five years ago as a busboy and was just last week promoted to be a manager at the Roadhouse, shared on the subject:

Although it’s seen as a promotion, true servant leadership sees it less about being vested with more power to tell others what to do and how to do things, and more about the opportunity to lift others up—their success defines how well you succeed. It isn’t done for the fame, money, power, etc. What is the key motivation, above all else, with Servant Leadership? It is that of Love. Genuine love for those you serve. The best examples of Servant Leaders don’t see a hierarchy and decisions to be handed down to those they manage. Rather they see the problems that arise, know they cannot, themselves, possibly know all the answers, and then ask their team honest questions. This line of reasoning falls in line with showing humility—a Servant Leader is a person who strives to be humble whenever possible, as their example will trickle down to the rest of the staff and will become infectious. Servant Leadership is truly the only honest, morally good way to lead others in any setting. It allows all people from all walks of life and positions, from dishwasher to owner, to feel safe and loved enough to speak their minds and truly seek what is best for the whole, not just themselves. This can not only unlocks the potential of every single individual, but makes the group incredibly desirable to want to be a part of, drawing in other people with like-minded passions that will only make the group better over time…

One of the beauties of Servant Leadership is that anyone can do it. And it requires no one to do anything other than us. If we believe it’s the right thing to do, then all we need to do is start doing it. As Peter Block wrote, “We are the cause, not the effect.” What if you aren’t in charge but you like the idea? Just do it anyways. I don’t think anyone needs clearance from corporate headquarters to be kind or to treat everyone with dignity. We don’t need anyone’s permission to write a vision, to give great service to your team, to be ethically grounded in your decision-making, learn, teach, and go to great lengths to say thanks! There are no forms to fill out and no certificates that give you permission to proceed.

The principles and practice of Servant Leadership that Paul and I learned all those years ago from Robert Greenleaf’s writing changed our lives here at Zingerman’s. Clearly, Servant Leadership has done the same for many others—even if still a small minority—around the world. It embeds everything I wrote last week about humility into an effective, grounded style of leadership we can all put into action if we choose.

Robert Greenleaf died 30 years ago, at the age of 86, on Sept. 29, 1990. While his family might not have realized it at the time, he died on Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement. Rabbi Nina Cardin writes, “One grand lesson of Rosh Hashanah [and Yom Kippur] is not that we have to be perfect, but that we are, and can continue to be, very good. It is sufficient if we strive to achieve our potential. It is only when we fail to be the fullness of who we are that we are held accountable.” Robert Greenleaf’s life fit that mold well. He set a positive pace for the rest of us, showing that although the mainstream of the business world didn’t yet see it, that there was another, better, way to work. So maybe we could take Yom Kippur each year to remind ourselves of what Greenleaf and others of his ilk shared with us, and recommit to being held accountable in the book of good leadership and good life? If we do that work effectively into the future, we might find that everything really will be different in the post-pandemic future towards which we’re all slowly moving.

*** This post is an excerpt from Ari’s Top 5, a weekly newsletter from Ari himself. Sign up to receive Ari’s Top 5 here!

The Power of Positive Beliefs

September 30th, 2020 by jtubbs

A Note from Ari’s Top 5, September 30

Marveling at the difference a small shift in beliefs can make in every aspect of our lives

As I write, we’re in the process of putting the final touches on the first ever “Zingerman’s Statement of Beliefs.” We’re working on getting them printed so we can give copies to our staff, and so those of you who want to can buy one as well. I’ll write more about why I believe the “Statement of Beliefs” is so important and how we plan to use it soon. But for the moment, I want to start with sharing the very first belief listed on the Statement:

“We believe leading with positive beliefs makes a positive difference.”

There are dozens of other beliefs in the document, and all are important. But, the more I work with the Statement of Beliefs, the clearer it’s becoming that that first belief is particularly important—it provides critical framing for the whole project. All the beliefs that follow on our list, are also positive. As are the stories that follow here. Like I said, “We believe leading with positive beliefs makes a positive difference.”

Sunrise above buildings with sparkling water balanced on a fence at Roadhouse Park

Sunrise at Roadhouse Park

As many of you will already know, during the work on The Power of Beliefs in Business I began to imagine our beliefs as the root systems of our lives. What we believe—whether we realize it or not, is driving our decisions and behaviors every day. Change the belief, and you’ll likely change the behavior too. By contrast, keep the belief the same, and we will continue to get the same outcomes. In hindsight, it’s obvious. The roots below ground always dictate, 100 percent of the time, what will later emerge above the surface. One of the most important learnings for me out of all the work was this:

  • Negative beliefs will lead to negative outcomes.

  • Neutral beliefs won’t do much of anything.

  • Positive beliefs create positive outcomes.

Negative beliefs can create action. They can create both antipathy or apathy, evoke anger, tear down buildings, get people fired, or bring relationships to an end. But they will not create calming, collaborative and creative results going forward. Which means that if we want to create long-term positive outcomes, we must lead from a positive place. It’s a short sentence and a simple concept but it’s a big statement. If we want to build meaningful, healthy, sustainable organizations, organizations that generate positive energy and leave their communities better than we found them, we need to begin our work with positive beliefs.

Like many things in life, it’s easier to understand this concept intellectually than it is to put it into daily practice. Negative beliefs are all around us. Most of us grew up, unknowingly, with plenty of them. They’re on the news, they’re in social media, they’re in notes from meetings we go to. It could be thinking ill of coworkers or customers. Or about our neighbors, our in-laws, our partners, our spouses. It could be about entire groups of people—racism, anti-Semitism, the belief that women can’t lead, or young people won’t read. Negative beliefs are so pervasive that we’re often not even aware that they’ve entered our minds—criticism and complaining, gossip and negative thinking can be so pervasive as to pass, pretty much unnoticed, as “normal.” The more we hear them, the deeper the roots go, and the harder it is to get them out of our heads. It can be done though. We have the freedom and power to choose our own beliefs. And small shifts that we make from negative beliefs to positive beliefs actually make positive differences. In the long run, a big difference.

To be clear, sticking to positive beliefs does not mean ignoring problems. We face big issues in our organizations and society at large every day. So, no, I’m not suggesting we nominate Pollyanna for President. But, it turns out, we can have negative beliefs about a problem (“There’s nothing we can do. We’re at the mercy of others.”), or we can have positive beliefs about problems (“This is a serious issue—let’s start working on how we can make things better”). Starting with positive beliefs won’t guarantee good results, but they sure will increase the odds that we can make good things happen.

What follows are a series of “short stories”—all of which have happened in the last few weeks—that have served to reinforce the power of positive beliefs for me.

DeVeaux worked at the Deli as a porter in what we would now call “the early years.” After he left the Deli, DeVeaux got into design and consulting. He’s creative, a musician, a caring thinker, a good ZingTrain customer, and very community minded. He’s still a great customer to this day, as is his whole family. After they were in the other evening at the Roadhouse, DeVeaux emailed me the next day with thanks for their dinner and to share this story:

I’ve been working really hard to change and improve the culture where I work and have made significant progress. Although at one point I was intent on leaving the company out of frustration, I shifted gears and tried to appreciate the positives, which are many. I started with changing my own mindset on gratitude and appreciation for what I have, and then working on what was important to me that I could change. So, it was part internal change, and partly learning to sell the importance of an idea and taking initiative to make it happen. The final component was making some great hires over the past few years of people who shared my goals [and, I’ll insert my own contextually relevant comment, his beliefs] and were willing to help. I even got the owners to attend some of the ZingTrain Leadership Series last year. This all culminated with an award I received at our annual Townhall. This is only the second time it’s been given out. The partners said some really nice things about me, how I’ve challenged them to be better leaders and transformed the culture, improving the business. It all started with the internal shift of “flipping the switch.”

The second story comes from Christine at the Deli. Based on the positive belief that others might benefit, she gave me permission to share this story: “Feel free to quote me. If it helps or inspires someone else that’s great.” After the piece I did on visioning came out last week, Christine wrote to share this story:

I’ve been seriously struggling lately with navigating this new reality (like everyone). Your writing about visioning earlier this week really struck a chord. I’ve been reading and re-reading it a lot this week, getting something new each time. As a result, I’ve slowly been changing my thinking. I have been so focused on what is “wrong” or causing me anxiety that I haven’t been appreciating all the positive things going on in my life. I wrote a vision and I feel better because of it. I was feeling like I had the 80/20 rule in reverse. Like seriously 80% of the things in my life are OK, but I was taking that 20% of anger and fear and anxiety and allowing it to take up all my mental space. Yes, those emotions are still there, but there was something about writing that bigger-picture vision two years from now that put things into perspective.

Here’s a small example of how my attitude has been changing: I’ve had my front door open today while I’m working for the first time in a month. My neighbor across the street has had a large collection of yard signs and flags for a political candidate I find abhorrent. I would get SO angry every time I opened the front door. I decided to refocus my view; by putting paper up to block my view of the sign, I no longer focused on something that upset me. Instead I get to see flowers and blue sky and trees. Yes, the signs are still there, nothing has changed except where I have decided to focus my energy.

The third short story starts with Marsha, who’s been a big player in the behind-the-scenes part of my life for decades, and who’s read The Power of Beliefs in Business, because of which, she sent me this from artist Emily McDowell:

“Finding yourself” is not really how it works. You aren’t a ten-dollar bill in last winter’s coat pocket. You are also not lost. Your true self is right there, buried under cultural conditioning, other people’s opinions, and inaccurate conclusions you drew as a kid that became your beliefs about who you are. “Finding yourself” is actually returning to yourself. An unlearning, an excavation, a remembering who you were before the world got its hands on you.

Positive beliefs, it turns out, are just as important when it comes to what we believe about ourselves. If we believe badly about ourselves, bad outcomes are almost certain. By shifting to positive beliefs, as Ms. McDowell so eloquently addresses, we can stay calmer, work more effectively, have a more positive impact on others around us, and remain more resilient—increasing our odds of getting to the future we envision.

The fourth story goes like this: I was sitting out front of the Roadhouse as I have been doing a lot over the last few months—a good spot in the warm sun and fresh-squeezed orange juice are hard to beat. Among the other guests arriving for breakfast was a gentleman around my age. He looked vaguely familiar, but I couldn’t quite place him. In the spirit of my friend Anese Cavanaugh’s teachings, his energy struck me (even across the parking lot) as positive, creative, grounded, and authentic. It was a beautiful Michigan morning, and he and the folks he was with were waiting for the dining room to open for brunch. From my table about 30 feet away, I overheard them wondering about what would be on the menu. I went inside and got them a copy. I went back to work, and he and his group went ahead, ordered, then sat out in Roadhouse Park, and ate breakfast.

About half an hour later, the gentleman walked back over and asked if I was one of the owners. I shyly said yes. He proceeded to share this story:

I was here a few years ago with my family for dinner. When you came by our table, I didn’t know who you were. I thought you were the busboy. I had half of my steak left on my plate, and you asked me if it was OK. I told you that the first half of it was fantastic, but the temperature had dropped prodigiously, and by the time I got to the other half it wasn’t hot, and it wasn’t what I wanted to eat. I’ll always remember you went and took the steak off my bill. You listened, and you treated me like a human being. I tell people that story all the time. And ever since then, if anyone tells me that they’re coming to Ann Arbor, I tell them to go to Zingerman’s.

I only vaguely recalled the details of the interaction itself. But in the spirit of Maya Angelou’s, “At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel,” I most definitely remembered him. I asked his name, trying to place him. “Ernst,” he said. “Oh yeah,” I said, “we talked for a while after you ate. You live in New York, right?” “Yep. I’m from Aruba, but I live in Brooklyn.” I thanked him for reminding me of the story, gave him my business card, and told him how happy I was to have him here visiting again.

He headed back to the family’s breakfast table. As he walked away I checked my computer. I remembered Ernst Mohamed and his positive creative energy. Immediately I found the file I was looking for. After he and his family had been in for dinner a few years before, I looked him up online. In part, I did it to learn more about him, but also in the hopes that I could find an email address to send him a thank you note. I didn’t find the contact info, but I did find this inspiring article about him. When I read it, it reinforced why I’d liked his energy so much!

The whole story of our interaction, I realized while I was writing, was based on positive beliefs. About customers. About people. About diversity. Even though my inclination is to not bring up the matter of race, I realized that in honor of the meaningful work Ernst Mohamed is doing in his community, I’m going to. Because in the spirit of poet Pat Parker who wrote a piece entitled, “For the white person who wants to know how to be my friend”:

The first thing you do is to forget that I’m Black.

Second, you must never forget that I’m Black.

Ernst is Black. (He’s also, it turns out, Jewish, but I wouldn’t have known that at the time.) The service we gave Ernst when he told me about his steak was, for us at Zingerman’s, our norm. It’s all, I now see, based on positive beliefs. He was our guest. We treat all customers with dignity and are committed to giving them a great experience. He wasn’t totally happy with his steak. Solution? Simple. Do the right thing. Refund his money.

But change the underlying beliefs, and you alter the outcomes. This story, in another restaurant in another place, could have gone very differently. The manager might think to himself, “Hey the customer already ate half the steak. He’s clearly scamming. Just trying to get something for free.” Based on those beliefs, the manager might have done nothing more than mumble an apology. If the manager had a lot of negative beliefs about Black people, there would at the least have probably been a lot of internal eye rolling. Maybe even worse. And even if the words spoken to Mr. Mohamed might have been formally “fine,” skeptical, unwelcoming energy sends a message. As he says in the article I found online: “I realized that in the eyes of a racist person my skin color is all that matters. Taken one event at a time, in isolation, maybe these aren’t such big deals, at least for me. But over time, one after the other, they are that foot, exerting constant pressure.” Negative beliefs of all sorts repeated regularly for years—whether they’re from our family, the press, or our boss—are wearing.

How do we change from negative beliefs to positive? The recipe I settled on is in Secret #43 in Part 4. Few of us understood growing up that our beliefs were nothing more than changeable lenses we learned early in our lives. Or that, like childhood nicknames or our favorite stuffed animals, they may have been fine at one point but not so great later in life. But it turns out we have full capacity to opt for different beliefs. The thing is, we can’t just order up a set of new ones. When the roots of negative beliefs are 30 years old, they aren’t just going to melt into nothingness overnight no matter how good our intentions. As Edgar Schein wrote, “Learning new things is easy when there is no unlearning involved.” The key here is to understand—and believe—that we CAN change them.

Last little bit of this series of short stories. For some reason a few weeks ago, I decided I wanted to know more about Jimi Hendrix. I’ve long loved his music and I have all the albums (on vinyl) from when I was a kid. I found this clip of him on the old Dick Cavett Show. It was made shortly after Woodstock when Hendrix did that mind-blowing marvelous version of the Star Spangled Banner. At one point, Dick Cavett says something about preparing himself to receive nasty letters about Hendrix’s “unorthodox version” of the national anthem. Having read—and gotten—some of those angry letters over the years, I immediately started to imagine how harsh they might be. But rather than get pulled into an argument, Hendrix smiles, reframes the beliefs, and takes the conversation in the opposite direction: “I don’t think it’s unorthodox,” he tells Cavett with a smile. “I think it’s beautiful.”

Secret #41, “Leading with Positive Beliefs” is out in pamphlet form. It’s online here, or on display at the Coffee Company, Roadhouse, and Deli.


Mac and Grease, aka Mac ‘n’ Bacon

April 2nd, 2019 by jtubbs



Cooking bacon

From page 188, Zingerman’s Guide to Better Bacon: Stories of Pork Bellies, Hush Puppies, Rock ‘n’ Roll Music and Bacon Fat Mayonnaise:


1/2 pound really good macaroni (I swear by the Martelli family’s)
8 ounces sliced bacon (about 4 to 6 slices)(I like Benton’s because the simplicity of the dish gets its full smokiness out front)
Coarse sea salt to taste
Freshly ground Tellicherry black pepper to taste


Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add lots of salt, then pasta. Stir well.

While the pasta is cooking, fry the bacon in a large skillet over medium heat until done. Remove the bacon from the pan, reserving the hot fat in the skillet. Chop the bacon and stand by. As soon as the pasta is almost al dente, drain it well and add it to the skillet along with the bacon. Toss well and cook for another minute or two, so that the grease really cooks into the macaroni. Season with salt and plenty of black pepper to taste. Serve immediately in hot bowls.

Optional additions:

“Enh,” Meg wrote me a day or so after she’d sent the original recipe (the word means “yes”  in Ojibway). “Try the mac and grease with a few big garden tomatoes cut into 1-inch cubes.” It’s incredibly simple—just chunks of really good tomato tossed into the hot bacon fat for a minute or two with some salt before the pasta goes into the skillet. “The tomatoes,” she said, should “get hot but not saucy, if you know what I mean. I did, and I made the dish and it was, again, in its simplicity, really, really good. Of course it’s only worth doing when the tomatoes are in season. The rest of the year you could gussy up your Mac and Grease by tossing in chopped vegetables or greens of most any sort, and cooking until they’re somewhere between soft and golden brown. Thinking more exotically, I want to throw chopped hickory nuts on top, too. You, of course, can do whatever you like. Like most pasta dishes, this one lends itself to hundreds of variations.

Serves 2 as a main course, or 4 as a side dish

It’s Time for Bacon!

April 1st, 2019 by jtubbs

From the book that started it all, Zingerman’s Guide to Better Bacon, we bring you the 10th Annual Camp Bacon!

To celebrate, we’ll be sharing recipes from the book with you. Come see us at Camp and learn more. We hope to see you there!

Wilted Salad

A great all-American dish dating back to the Colonial era, wilted salad uses bacon fat as the basis for a dressing in much the same way that olive oil is used to dress greens in the Mediterranean. The heat of the bacon dressing wilts the greens—hence the name. April McGreger, who grew up with bacon fat as the basis for a lot of her family’s food, told me that they called this “killt lettuce”—because the lettuce is “slain” by the hot fat, not because of any connection to Scottish menswear. The bacon’s flavor is a big part of the dish, so use whatever variety strikes your fancy. Because the fat will solidify once it cools, the dressing must be served warm.


6 ounces mixed greens, washed and dried

6 ounces sliced bacon (about 3 to 4 slices)

2 scallions (greens and whites), thinly sliced

2 tablespoons cider vinegar

½ teaspoon sugar

Coarse sea salt to taste

2 ounces cheddar cheese, diced (optional)

¼ cup walnuts or hickory nuts, lightly toasted and chopped (optional)

Freshly ground Tellicherry black pepper to taste



Place the greens in a large, heat-proof serving bowl.

Fry the bacon in a heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat until crisp. Remove from the skillet, drain and chop it. Reserve about 4 tablespoons of fat in the skillet (augment with a glug from your backup supply if necessary).

Add the sliced scallions to the pan and cook for a minute. Pour in the cider vinegar, sugar and a pinch of salt. Stir well and boil lightly for a minute.

If you’re using cheese or toasted nuts, distribute them over the greens. Pour the hot dressing over the top, toss well and sprinkle with the bits of cooked bacon and plenty of fresh pepper. Serve warm.

Serves 2 as a main course, or 4 as a side dish



The Positive Business Conference is Coming Up!

March 7th, 2019 by jtubbs

Ari will be speaking at the Positive Business Conference this year. We’re excited to be a part of it! Check out more about it here. Want a head start in fixing the energy flow in your office space? Check out Secret 19. Here’s an excerpt for you:

By living the Natural Laws of Business, we were tapping the full energy of the people who work here and getting way better results in the process.

What I’m talking about here is not just some “soft stuff ” to slough off onto your HR department to deal with. Energy is . . . nearly everything. It’s how we feel, how we act, how we approach the world. It is, in essence, the emotional atmosphere in which we operate. Low, negative energy brings trouble. But positive energy brings everything we’re after: innovation, creativity, caring, generosity of spirit, belief, big ideas, and all that extra effort that so often makes the difference between good and great. And that is, very truly, what I believe we’re getting from most everyone who works here.

By contrast, most of the rest of the world is squandering massive amounts of available human energy every day. Pick your analogy—the way they’re working is akin to filling a bucket that has a big hole in the bottom; like running the AC with the windows wide open; or like driving on the highway while you’re still stuck in low gear. (No offense to anyone’s political allegiance, but I can’t figure out how raising or lowering tax rates would have any impact on this problem—it strikes me as being akin to arguing about whether or not to switch the fan from “Auto” to “On” while operating that dang AC with all the windows still wide open.)