Lack of a clear vision leads to higgledy-piggledy services and experiences – Interview with Ari Weinzweig of Zingermans


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Today’s interview is with Ari Weinzweig, the CEO and co-founding partner of Zingerman’s Community of Businesses, a gourmet food business group headquartered in Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA. Ari was previously on the podcast back in 2020 and is also one of the contributors to Punk XL. Ari joins me today to talk about business visions, visioning, his new pamphlet on visioning (The Story of Visioning at Zingerman’s: Four Visions, Forty Years, and a Positive Look Towards the Future), how many service and experience initiatives lack a clear vision of what it is they are trying to create and why and how this can leads to the higgledy-piggledy services and experiences that we often encounter.

Note: This podcast is the first in a series of contributions (podcast chats, blogs and mixtapes etc) from the contributors to Punk XL that will appear here over the coming months.

This interview follows on from my recent interview – The digitization of the supply chain and it’s impact on customer experience and sustainability – Interview with Sanjay Brahmawar of Software AG – and is number 436 in the series of interviews with authors and business leaders that are doing great things, providing valuable insights, helping businesses innovate and delivering great service and experience to both their customers and their employees.

Here’s the highlights of my chat with Ari:

  • We have about a dozen different businesses in the Ann Arbor area operating as one organization under, what I would call, a lot of anarchistic principles.
  • Ari’s new pamphlet on visioning: The Story of Visioning at Zingerman’s: Four Visions, Forty Years, and a Positive Look Towards the Future)
  • This pamphlet is a little bit like what they call an E. P. in music terms. It’s a little bigger than a single, but it’s it’s not a full album.
  • Pamphlets go back to my anarchist studies. In the early 1900s, pamphlets were the equivalent of social media. It was a way to convey ideas relatively inexpensively and quickly because people would read them and pass them to their friends.
  • We have just written our 2032 vision.
  • Ari was a convert to the visioning process after Paul Saginaw, his co-founder, asked him back in 1982 where they wanted to be in 10 years times.
  • The pamphlet starts by presenting a vision for the pamphlet.
  • The problem with business visions is that it feels like people are producing statements but there is no story to them.
  • There’s a difference between these statements and stories and how we interact with them and how we engage with them.
  • However, I like mission statements. We’ve used ours here very effectively. It’s made a big difference in our organizational lives. It’s like the North Star and you review it when you feel lost, which we all do regularly.
  • We’re here to bring a great experience to everybody. It’s not rocket science, it’s not brain surgery. It’s not that hard. Every nine year old could do it. But, the vision is a story. And, when you only have the four line one it doesn’t provide any real clarity to me about the kind of future you want to create.
  • Whereas when you write a story of your future it has to include all of the things that matter.
  • If it’s your organization, it’s giving you a chance to write the story of what you want to create. It’s not just a bullet point list or a business card. It’s really the story of how the people who work in your business, whether there’s two employees or 2000 and how they feel about working there.
  • Do you want it to get big, because growth is not a requirement, it’s a choice, right?
  • What do you want to create? What’s what’s success look like for you?
  • The original 1993 Vision was a six page long document.
  • There’s nothing genetic that inclines you to four line vision statements and quotes.
  • We do what we’re used until something changes our beliefs.
  • Some people will say that they are not good at telling stories. But, everybody’s good at stories. No human being grows up without stories. We’re all making up stories, all of the time. It’s a normal way for people to process the world, to remember the world and to help converse about the world.
  • One of the managers in our catering business just wrote a vision for an event that they’re doing this weekend. It allows them to get feedback from the other managers and the people working the event so they’re clear. They also help enhance it and they buy in consciously and unconsciously to the vision of the event. They then send it to the bride and groom for them to read it, feel it, add to it and buy into it too.
  • Starting to write a vision in this way starts with free writing.
  • If it’s for an event then you might start and do it for 10 mins. If it’s for your organization then might do it for 45mins or an hour if you’re really pushing it.
  • That doesn’t mean it’s done. It’s just the first draft.
  • In those times you adopt what is called ‘hot pen’, which essentially means you just keep writing for the entire time. And that’s really what makes it work because when you continually write your conscious brain cannot keep up with your hand or hands typing. So, it overrides the over thinking that most of us are so adapt at and pushes us to tap into what is already in our hearts but we’ll tell ourselves won’t work or something else etc.
  • Then you can tidy it up, add things to it, share it with everyone and get their perspective.
  • Every business or organization within our community of businesses has its own vision.
  • We’ve gone through four visioning cycles. The first one was Zingerman’s 1982 (The Deli We Initially Imagined) then came Zingerman’s 2009, Zingerman’s 2020 and now we have just finished Zingerman’s 2032 that will take us up to our 50th anniversary.
  • We now teach business visioning at Zingtrain.
  • When you write a new vision, for better or for worse, it really allows you to change anything for better, because it opens up a lot of creative things.
  • When you start a new vision, anything’s on the table. That forces you to have conversations and to make choices.
  • We know from sales research, everybody buys on emotion and justifies on fact.
  • Visioning is us buying into our own future and it’s an inside out exercise.
  • The pamphlet is a story about stories.
  • Ari’s favourite story of the moment is of Lisa Schultz and her path to becoming a partner in the Zingerman’s Community of Businesses. You’ll have to listen to the podcast to hear the whole story 😉
  • Check out and sign up for Ari’s Top 5 newsletter here.

About Ari

Ari WeinzweigAri Weinzweig is CEO and co-founding partner of Zingerman’s Community of Businesses, which includes Zingerman’s Delicatessen, Bakehouse, Creamery, Catering, Mail Order, ZingTrain, Coffee Company, Roadhouse, Candy Manufactory, Events at Cornman Farms, Miss Kim and Zingerman’s Food Tours. Zingerman’s produces, sells and serves all sorts of full flavored, traditional foods in its home of Ann Arbor, Michigan to the tune of $65,000,000 a year in annual sales. Ari was recognized as one of the “Who’s Who of Food & Beverage in America” by the 2006 James Beard Foundation and has awarded a Bon Appetit Lifetime Achievement Award among many recognitions. Ari is the author of a number of articles and books, including Zingerman’s Guide to Better Bacon (Zingerman’s Press), Zingerman’s Guide to Giving Great Service, Zingerman’s Guide to Good Eating (Houghton Mifflin), Zingerman’s Guide to Good Leading, Part 1: A Lapsed Anarchist’s Approach to Building a Great Business, and Zingerman’s Guide to Good Leading, Part 2: A Lapsed Anarchist’s Approach to Being a Better Leader. Zingerman’s Guide to Good Leading, Part 3; A Lapsed Anarchist’s Approach to Managing Ourselves. Zingerman’s Guide to Good Leading, Part 4; A Lapsed Anarchist’s Approach to the Power of Beliefs in Business was released in summer of 2016. In 2017 Ari was named one of “The World’s 10 Top CEOs (They Lead in a Totally Unique Way)” by Inc. Magazine. In 2018 he released the pamphlet, “The Art of Business; Why I Want to be an Artist.” Another pamphlet, “Going into Business with Emma Goldman” came out in June, 2019.

Inc. Magazine described Zingerman’s as the “Coolest Small Company in America”. Meanwhile, they have been featured in the Harvard Business Review and on MSNBC for their business practices and Bo Burlingham in his book, Small Giants, cited Zingerman’s as a model for organizations that define success more creatively than just “getting as big as we can as fast as we can”.

Find out more at, and (You can also find many of the books at Google Books). Finally, say Hi to the folks at Zingerman’s and ZingTrain on Twitter @Zingermans and @ZingTrain and if you want to email Ari directly then his email is: ari at zingermans dot com.

Finally, sign up for Ari’s Top 5 newsletter here.

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Adrian Swinscoe
Adrian Swinscoe brings over 25 years experience to focusing on helping companies large and small develop and implement customer focused, sustainable growth strategies.


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