The best business book you’ve never heard of

My first week on the job at Heath Ceramics, I stopped by the showroom and picked up a copy of a business book I’d never seen, by an author I didn’t know, who co-founded and led a business I’d never heard of, yet it boasted endorsements from some pretty major names. I was pretty sure I was at least familiar with all the business books you’re supposed to read: from the classics, to the wave of stuff from the 90’s that has held up, to the sea of current influencers. What was this?

From the first word of the preface of A Lapsed Anarchist’s Approach to Building a Great Business, the initial book of a four part leadership series by Ari Weinzweig, co-founder of Zingerman’s, to the last word of the notes in the back, I kept saying to myself: who is this guy, how does he know all of this, and how’d he stuff it all — the “basic building blocks for culture and structure” — into one book? Later that year I attended a visioning workshop at ZingTrain in Ann Arbor and witnessed firsthand that they practice what they preach, that it works, and it’s worth taking into the world.

What’s to love?

  • Ari lays out an operating system for how Zingerman’s built a business for good that is socially, environmentally, and financially successful. (The Triple Bottom Line) The reference to anarchism isn’t a joke. He says, ”…anarchism is actually a very positive perception of humanity, based on the belief that people want to do the right thing and — if unobstructed by self-serving, authoritarian structures — usually will.” That core belief, teamed up with a curation of Drucker, Servant Leadership, Open Book Management, and much more, is served up in a way that is relatable, and accessible.

  • Simple, road-tested, useful tools, systems, and practices full of wisdom and free of jargon. The visioning tool is a game-changer. Much is written about the power of right to left thinking, or beginning with the end in mind, and for good reason. Having a clear and compelling vision of where you’re going gets you there. The visioning tool they’ve perfected (originating from Ron Lippitt @ Michigan) produces an inspiring, sound, and robust vision through an inclusive process that gets people building a cathedral together vs. laying bricks. Many of my clients, organizations and individuals, have used it, and it delivers. Ari makes a clear argument that a well-done vision, teamed up with a clear mission and guiding principles, creates a core that can withstand earthquakes.

  • It’s organized in “recipes” (chapters) that stand alone and are available in individual pamphlets, anarchists that they are!

What’s Zingerman's? All you Michigan grads out there have a big smile on your face at just the mention of this place. What began in 1982 as a deli by Ari Weinzweig and Paul Saginaw is now a vibrant and treasured community of businesses in Ann Arbor. The original deli has been joined by a bakehouse, a creamery, restaurants, a coffee company, a candy manufactory, a training facility, ZingTrain, where they teach how they run their businesses, and more. They employ 700+ full-time staffers and swell to nearly 1000 during the holiday season. They are among a rarified list of Evolutionary Organizations in Aaron Dignan’s just released Brave New Work. Super fun to visit if you get the chance.


Favorite quote

The 9th Natural Law of Business: “Success means you get better problems”

Sunday Morning Reflection

Give visioning a try. Pick a time frame: it can be six months or ten years. Pick a topic. Your life, maybe? Warm up by writing down things you’re proud of for a few minutes. Start with a blank page and title it DRAFT: My 20XX Vision of Greatness. Set a timer for 15-30 minutes and start writing! Put yourself in that future. You’re waking up that day. What’s true? Go for something great. Let those crazy thoughts out. Go fast. Write from the heart. Get personal. Keep writing and don’t stop. See what pops out!

And that’s only the beginning. If you want to read more about visioning, Ari has penned a few articles. The book has much more!

Why and How Visioning Works

The Power of Visioning

Sunday Morning: 102