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.)

“The Art of Business: Why I Want to be an Artist” Has Arrived!

November 29th, 2018 by jtubbs

The new pamphlet is here and book release events are coming soon!

In the metaphorical organizational ecosystem I made up while I was working on The Power of Beliefs in Business, I started to think of beliefs as the “root system” of our lives; culture quickly became “the soil;” hope, “the sun;” the spirit of generosity, I imagined as “water;” purpose I pictured as “air.” In that context, I started to think about new ideas as “seeds.” (If you’d like to see an illustrated draft of the “organizational ecosystem,” email me at ari(at)zingermans(dot)com.) As with agriculture, if you sow a hundred “seeds”/ideas in your “field,” only a limited number will sprout. Since we can’t know in advance which will sprout, we need to plant far more than we’ll actually get to grow. And then, as patiently as we can, watch carefully for those that start to poke their little green leaves out from the soil. Those are the seeds/ideas that we start to nurture, care for, and let grow into something far greater than the tiny seed from which they started. As in nature, no one has control over the outcomes. We can influence, but we can’t impose.

The subject matter of this new pamphlet is one of the ideas that took root. Over the last few years it’s grown into something significant, a concept that I reference regularly when I teach, write, and work. And, really, in every aspect of my life. As you’ll read in the pamphlet, the original idea came to me while I was working on another part of The Power of Beliefs. Eventually, it ended up in the epilogue. But the more I played with it, the more the idea grew. What started as a small seed has evolved into the base of a business and life philosophy.

The Art of Business includes, first, the epilogue from Part 4 of the book. It’s followed by further thoughts; an interview in which I explain what was on my mind on the subject. In the spirit of what I’m writing about, what artist and author Robert Henri called “the Art Spirit,” we’ve worked to make the physical form of the piece particularly special—as unique, creative, art-focused and fun as what I’ve been imagining this approach to business and life would look like in real life.

The cover is letterpress-printed by Michael Coughlin of Letterpress Book Publishing in Minneapolis with care. Mike’s calm, grounded energy, his anarchist beliefs, his passion for old-time printing methods and the beauty of the books he puts out resonate strongly with me.

The beautiful scratchboard illustration on the inside page of the pamphlet is done by our own Ian Nagy. The t-shirt you’ll see in the drawing displays the painting of Patrick-Earl Barnes. I met Patrick-Earl on the street in Soho, in NYC, about 14 years ago and fell in love with his art. I have about 15 of his pieces hanging in my house.

Thanks to everyone who works in the ZCoB, and all of you—our customers and suppliers— for giving me the chance to live and work and learn in such an inspiring, supportive, collaborative, and artistically oriented ecosystem! As Enrique Martínez Celaya says, “A great work of art cannot come from hatred or cynicism…At the heart of great art you will find love and compassion.” I feel very fortunate to be part of ours!

The pamphlet is out NOW at the Deli, Roadhouse, Coffee Company,, and here at Zingerman’s Press. And, to add to the mix, we’ve got a few artful kickoff events coming up:

  • Thursday, November 22 (that’s right, Thanksgiving Day), at Fumbally Café in Dublin! (yes, Dublin, Ireland, not Dublin, Ohio!). Info.
  • Friday November 30, early in the morning, at the Roadhouse (we’ll serve Zingerman’s Coffee Company’s Holiday Blend). Info.
  • Wednesday evening December 5 at ZingTrain. Info.

Devote Meaningful Time to Time

January 24th, 2018 by jtubbs

An excerpt from Zingerman’s Guide to Good Leading, Part 3: A Lapsed Anarchist’s Approach to Managing Ourselves, Secret #37.

If the main focus … is to develop a more positive relationship with time, then the first place to start, as with any relationship, is by devoting some quality time to it. Seriously, how many really rewarding relationships of any sort have you had that you didn’t devote meaningful time to? Getting to know time, quite simply, takes time; if your connection with your kids, your significant other, your work, or anything else you care about were merely something you squeezed into the spare moments that may crop up here and there, the quality of that relationship wouldn’t likely be very good. The same is true with time. Treat it like an unwanted stepchild, and the odds are that tension, frustration, and trouble are pretty sure to follow suit.

Building a good relationship with time feels, to me, a lot like what it takes to work out effectively. We all know that we won’t get in shape by worrying about our health; nor will we improve our relationship to time by lamenting how little of it we have. Making time for either is rarely urgent, but it’s almost always helpful. Even if it’s awkward in the moment, you’re pretty sure to feel far better in the long run. We get away with not doing either when we’re young, but the older we get, the more we have going, the harder it is to move forward in a healthy way without making some commitment to do better. There are always about eight hundred good reasons not to work out on any given day, but everyone knows that we’ll feel better for it if we do. The work we invest in exercise usually results in increased energy going forward, better grounding, better health, and lower stress. The same is true for time; put some time and effort in up front, and pretty soon you’ll bring better energy and efficiency to almost everything else you do. And whether it’s working out or spending time on time, once you get used to it, it’s unlikely you’ll go back to the haphazard ways of old.

One of the most effective ways I’ve learned to spend time on time is by engaging in reflection. Taking a few minutes to look back on what’s happened, to assess what your actions have attained, how they correlated with your intentions, and how you felt about the whole thing, can be a great help. If we don’t know what’s worked well and what’s been less than ideal in the way we’ve managed our time to date, it’s tough to make major improvements going forward.

In essence, I suppose, it’s a self-review on how you spend your time. Since you’re ultimately your own boss, it’s up to you to manage the messages you send yourself. We also need to take time to consider the time to come. How much time is left in the day? In the month? In the year? In our lives? What do you need to erase from the to-do list in order to give yourself a good shot at completing what you want to get done? Is there anything really meaningful we want to add to our list before time, for the period we’re considering, comes close to running out?

The journaling I do every morning helps me get my mind around what I need to do for the day, how I’m feeling, what I’ve done, what I appreciate, what’s happened around me, and what I see coming up on the horizon. As I put down random thoughts and feelings, I’malways reminded of something I want to do, someone I want to appreciate, or something I can positively contribute that wasn’t in my mind when I began writing. When I start to worry about running out of time, I try to quiet my mind—I know that worrying is energy expended unproductively. Attempting to appreciate each moment and everything in it has helped me significantly—it’s turned my relationship with time into a positive, rewarding experience I like being part of, rather than an effort to escape from someone else’s idea of a rat race.


Zingerman’s Guide to Good Leading, Part 3: A Lapsed Anarchist’s Approach to Managing Ourselves

Secret #37