“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, Zingtrain.com, 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

Show People How Much They Matter

September 7th, 2017 by jtubbs

An excerpt from Zingerman’s Guide to Good Leading, Part 4: A Lapsed Anarchist’s Approach to The Power of Beliefs in Business, Secret #45.

One of the first responsibilities we have as hope-building leaders is to demonstrate daily to everyone in the organization how much we value them for who they are. Taking time to learn their story—where they’re from, what their family life is like, what they want for their future, what sort of music they listen to, what they do when they’re not at work—helps us honor them as the unique creative individuals they are. Asking how their significant other is, inquiring how their kids are doing in school, or discovering their favorite food (assuming we listen attentively to their answers) may seem minor, but it can have a major impact.

Hope levels go up every time that we as leaders actively envision each person we hire as a potentially great contributor. As Pulitzer Prize–winning Native American author N. Scott Momaday says, “We are what we imagine. Our very existence consists in our imagination of ourselves. Our best destiny is to imagine, at least, completely, who and what, and that we are. The greatest tragedy that can befall us is to go unimagined.” Many people are viewed by their boss as a pain in the organizational ass, an interchangeable part hired to fill a long-term hole, or maybe as a moderately competent role player. I try to do the opposite—I imagine them as amazing. I want to help find the artist in everyone we hire: to inspire them to greatness and help them find their passion and their power. Everyone wants to matter. And I believe they do.

How we do it here: appreciations, Service Star awards, orientation classes, Bottom Line Change, open-book finance, open meetings, stewardship, Servant Leadership, 3 Steps to Giving Great Service, 5 Steps to Effectively Handling a Complaint, and authorizing everyone to do whatever they need to make things right for a guest.

Zingerman’s Guide to Good Leading: The Power of Beliefs in Business

Secret 45: A Six-Pointed Hope Star

Make Something Special

August 4th, 2017 by jtubbs

If you want to have a really special business, well . . . I know it’s obvious, but I’ll state it anyway: the product has to be really special, too. I’m not saying it has to be expensive. Just special. Exceptional. Engaging. Interesting. Better still, unique. (Or at least unique to your part of the world—pimento cheese is found in just about every kitchen in the South, but in Ann Arbor you won’t find it anywhere but Zingerman’s . . . at least not yet!) Put something out there that people will get excited about, take note of, talk about, and want to actively get behind, through good times and bad. I’m sure there are exceptions to this rule, but almost any great company that comes to mind was built around a special product or service.

Keep in mind that even products that now seem unremarkable were once unique. Offering drive-in restaurant service was something special back when the McDonald brothers got going, and the burgers probably weren’t all that bad, either. Parking outside the Golden Arches back in the day was a cool thing to do—not just something you did for convenience or to keep your kids quiet. Sears was once a huge innovator in catalog sales and service, not just a department store struggling to survive in the 21st century mall. (They were social innovators, too: check out the Rosenwald schools, started by part owner and president, Julius Rosenwald, back in the early years of the 20th century.)

Excerpt from Zingerman’s Guide to Good Leading, Part 1: A Lapsed Anarchist’s Approach to Building a Great Business

Secret #18

Find the Positives

July 14th, 2017 by jtubbs

An excerpt from Zingerman’s Guide to Good Leading, Part 4: A Lapsed Anarchist’s Approach to The Power of Beliefs in Business, Secret #41.

It’s not easy to stay positive in a world in which we’re surrounded by cynicism, knocked down by tragedy in the news, trying to work through illness and uncertainty in our personal lives. But even a mindful and imperfect effort to keep moving in the right direction makes a difference. We feel better when we’re walking the path we chose to be on, regardless of how hard it may be in the moment. Emotional resilience gains respect, which builds inner strength.

I’m all about win-win, but emotion is essentially a zero sum game. When a culture is filled with harsh criticism, naysaying, blaming, and behind-the-back baloney, there’s not much room left for the light and upbeat. An environment like that is very vulnerable to disaster. The best way to move out the negative is to fill the ecosystem with affirmative and appreciative approaches. Weeds may still grow, but they’re peripheral. The more we fill our spaces and our spirits with appreciation—the real thing, not inauthentic superficial sweetness that sends nice sentiments that we clearly don’t mean—the better things are going to go. As Henri Matisse said, “There are always flowers for those who want to see them.”

It’s certainly proven true for us at Zingerman’s. It’s right there in the 12th Natural Law of Business: “Great organizations are appreciative, and the people in them have more fun.” To quote positive-psychology professor Martin Seligman, “Positive mood produces broader attention, more creative thinking, and more holistic thinking. This, in contrast to negative mood, which produces narrowed attention, more critical thinking, and more analytic thinking.” Data show a connection in positive work environments to lower staff turnover, better mental health, higher immune-system function, and fewer sick days taken. (If you don’t believe all that, maybe skip to Secret #43 and explore whether you might want to change that belief.)

If you believe, as I do, that there’s some good and some not so good in most situations, it can be challenging to quickly identify the upside. I was raised to focus on finding the flaws first, then argue about the right answer, and finally fix what was wrong. I know I’m not alone in that. Rebecca Solnit notes, “Yiddish can describe defects of character with the precision that Inuit describe ice or Japanese rain.” American Jews swapped Yiddish for English, but the thinking process didn’t change. I learned how to argue, how to think quickly, how to push forward through adversity, how to have emotional resilience.

But, still, I’m glad I moved on. Finding the flaws first—other than in an emergency where urgent action is the point—almost always leads to failure. Even in the darkest of days, there are plenty of positive things happening. Everything we know about our minds says that the more we focus on those positive things, the more positive things are going to happen. Wendell Berry suggests, “Maybe the answer is to fight always for what you particularly love, not for abstractions and not against anything: don’t fight against even the devil, and don’t fight to ‘save the world.’”

A small story from my childhood comes to mind. When my grandmother used to go shopping, she was sure that most shopkeepers were out to cheat her. She was very diligent—watching their work for short weighting, or in case they should try to surreptitiously slip in some subpar product. She’s not the only one—when I go to markets I often see people digging through piles of produce to find just the “right” piece of fruit or ear of corn. If you look up at the vendors while their customers are doing this, sometimes you’ll see them smirking slightly and biting their tongues. My own approach is the opposite of my grandmother’s. Instead of treating the farmers as potential antagonists, I appeal to the farmer’s expertise and integrity. When they ask me which pint of peaches I want, I ask them to just give me the one they think is best. I can’t prove that what I get is any better than what my grandmother got. But I’m confident that my life is less stressful and that going to the market is a much more enjoyable experience for me.

Practical Tips

• Use the Three and Out Rule. This is a little self-management mechanism I made up a few years back and wrote about in Part 1 (on page 214, if you want to see it in the original). It’s such an eminently effective tool that I couldn’t stand to leave it out of this piece just because I’d already put it in print earlier. It goes like this: When I feel my energy sliding into the negative realm, I find someone around me—whether in person, on the phone, or via email—and I thank them. Sincerely. For something that they’ve done that I honestly appreciate. I always get back positive energy from doing this.

Then I immediately find someone else and do it again. Bingo. I get back more positive energy. Within a matter of minutes, I repeat my act of appreciation a third time. Voil.! More good energy comes my way. In the face of all that positivity, I simply cannot stay in a bad mood. The smiles, the warmth, and the wealth of good feeling that others give me for having unexpectedly appreciated them always turns my day around. And, if my mood gets better, consider the impact on the rest of our organization. Talk about time as an investment. What better use of 10 minutes can you imagine than doing the Three and Out Rule? Try it out. Three and Out is great stuff!

• Try the Three Good Things exercise. I learned this one from positive psychologist Martin Seligman. Every day write down three good things that happened to you. Then, for each, answer these questions: Why did this thing happen to me? What does it mean to me? How can I have more of it in the future? I’ve used the technique myself and taught it to others, too. It works. Over time, people build the habit of seeing more of the good things that were there all along. And guess what? More good things start to happen all the time.

• Flood with positivity. Noting three good things daily works well over a period of weeks. But sometimes, when I’m in a dark space, I don’t have time to wait. This technique can turn my day around in a matter of minutes. I just pull out my journal and start listing all the good things I have around me and in my life. It’s the emotional equivalent of flooding rice fields. The water kills off the weeds. By the time I’ve listed like 20 or 30 great things, I’m usually back to a more centered place. The whole process generally takes me less than five minutes.

• Offer appreciations at the end of meetings. When you’re getting ready to wrap up any formal group meeting, pause for four or five minutes of appreciations. Anyone in the room can appreciate anyone or anything they want. It’s informal and no one is required to speak. Most people usually do, though. It’s a great way to get ourselves focused on all the good around us before we head back into the day-to-day work world. (For more on how we do it, see Secret #13, in Part 1.) We’ve been doing this for 20 years now, and I swear by it. It’s simple; it’s free; it requires no software license; and other than possible awkwardness the first few times you do it, it can’t fail.

Zingerman’s Guide to Good Leading: The Power of Beliefs in Business

Secret #41 Leading with Positive Beliefs

Effective Organizational Change

June 21st, 2017 by jtubbs

Step#1: Write Up the Clear and Compelling Purpose for Change

BLC begins with getting clear on the why behind the change. We want to get everyone on the same page—if we all agree on good reasons for the change, the odds that it will succeed increase greatly. As Detroit-based anarchist Jo Labadie said a century ago, “Discontent is the mother of progress.” Sharing our purpose for change:

a. Helps the change leader get really clear about why they believe the change is beneficial and how badly it’s needed. More often than not, I find that when I start to compile my case, the need for change looks even more compelling than I thought it was. On occasion, though, it isn’t as compelling. Either way, I’m clearer in my own head about why I’m after the change and why the course of action we’re embarking on is the right one. This clarity means I’m better able to explain my interests and am more likely to hold my ground when I meet with resistance en route.

b. Gets others clear on why the change is a good idea. Left to our own don’t-rock-the-boat devices, most of us aren’t usually all that bothered by the status quo … which means that pretty much everyone except the change leaders are likely to see the change at hand as a bother. If we want to get everyone to move forward with us toward a better future, we need to start by selling them on the process. This step is really as simple as that: tell the people who are going to be impacted why the change is worthwhile. Just list all the reasons why the change is a good one. (Note that “Because I said so!” should not be on the list. That’s only likely to send everyone in the direction opposite the one you want to take them. Royal edicts almost always elicit additional resistance.)

Often the issue is one of framing. For instance, the change leaders might have a strong sense that the marketplace is passing them by, that without a significant shift in the services they offer, the company is likely to lose significant sales. At the same time, frontline folks doing the daily work may not be watching social trends in the same way and might feel no need to adjust. Simply sharing a different perspective might be enough to get them on board—it helps show folks that the choice is to make significant and internally driven changes now or painful, market-imposed changes later. Given that choice, nearly everyone will choose the former option. (I should point out that this scenario can happen—and has happened—in reverse: employees see what’s happening, but leaders have their heads stuck in the sand. In that case, BLC can still be effective. The change leader would likely come from the front lines.)

Similarly, new government regulations, bad financing, or product innovations from a competitor all provide compelling reasons to change—but only if you know about them. The way things are might seem wonderful … until you find out that if things don’t change, the business is going to be shut down in six weeks. Then all of a sudden making changes sounds a lot more appealing!

Read more about the recipe in this pamphlet! Bottom Line Change: Zingerman’s Recipe for Effective Organizational Change.