A few weeks ago I had the chance to visit Ann Arbor, MI for a week for business. I drove up late on a Sunday for an all day people performance review meeting on Monday that was a precursor to a larger meeting for the middle of the week and then a team meeting at the end. Hopefully that week met my meeting quota for a while.
After the first day of meetings, the group I was with setup a dinner a mile or so away from the hotel we were staying in at Zingerman’s Roadhouse. It was a very nice meal (I had some ribs that were quite good), but I didn’t think much of it otherwise. On the short drive home, I happened to see a “Zingerman’s coffee” sign on the grocery store across from our hotel. Hmm? Next morning, I boarded the bus to the farm where we were having our large team meeting and as we pulled up the sign read “Zingerman’s Cornman Farms”. Who is this Zingerman? Why does he seem to own half of Ann arbor? And does he have a famous pig?
I never discovered the answers to any of those questions, but I did learn quite a bit about the Zingerman’s Community of Businesses over the next few days. (As near as I can tell Zingerman’s is name the original founders made up, but I am sure there is a better story than that…). I learned that Zingerman’s grows its own organic vegetables for its restaurants on its farm. I learned that Zingerman’s makes its own cheese and butter at Zingerman’s creamery. I learned that Zingerman’s got its start as a Deli (that is still there today) in the 80s in downtown Ann Arbor. And I learned that one of the founders wrote a few interesting books.
Ari Weinzweig came to speak to our group on the morning of the last day. When he introduced himself as a lapsed anarchist and went into a quick spiel on how he spent lots of time reading early 20th century anarchist literature when he was in college and how it he sees it clearly applying to how business should be run, I was hooked. Although I normally am not one to introduce myself to strangers, I felt compelled to introduce myself to Ari. We talked for 10 minutes or so and I walked away with copies of his first three business books (he has more in the works).
The first in the series is called a Lapsed Anarchist’s Approach to Building a Great Business. The feel of the book is best described as a cross between Murray Rothbard and Tom Peters. Its all the energy of the best modern, progressive management books but comes from a perspective of free will and individual choice being the
best only way to really get things done. The main part of the book is a collection of essays on topics ranging from the “12 Natural Laws of Building a Great Business” (these should come as laminated cards that ever leader can stick on their monitor) to the need for systems (which he admits as an anarchist, lapsed or not, was difficult for him to accept).
For me the most impactful essays focused on vision. The “vision” term gets thrown around a lot mostly by corporate PR hacks and high priced consultants. Ari’s description of a vision as simply a story that describes what life will be like for you, your team and your customers when you get to where you are going at some reasonably distant, but not too far, point in the future, in my opinion, is far more useful than the corporate speak laden visions that adorn so many plaques. Words on a plaque never made anyone do anything great. A shared story of where you are headed though – that can be inspiring.
In the epilogue, Ari writes:
Sometimes I think of my life as being bookmarked: not so much in the usual sense of marking pages with pieces of paper, but in the sense that so many of my ideas are bracketed by somewhat random reading selections that happen to coincide with what is going on with (and around) me at the time I crack open the covers. Books often pop up for me at fortuitous times.
This happens to me too all the time as well. I read pretty widely and have a huge to read pile and a Amazon wish list in the thousands. Despite all these variables, it does seem to be more times than not that I end up cracking the covers on something helpful for whatever I’m facing at the time. That has certainly been the case in reading a Lapsed Anarchist’s Approach to Building a Great Business and I’m sure it will be true for the other two I added to my to read pile (once I get through the other 4..or 5…or is it 6? other books I am in the middle of…promised myself not to start anything new until I finish at least half of them).
For anyone looking for a good business book from a practitioner and a true believer I can’t recommend this book highly enough. For anyone looking for all that AND a viewpoint consistent with free choice and individual empowerment, I guess I have to find a way to recommend it just a little higher.