The Art Of Business
If you have heard of Andy Warhol, you might know he once famously said: “Being good in business is the most fascinating kind of art. Making money is art, working is art, and good business is the best art.”
We recently caught up with Ari Weinzweig, founder of Zingerman’s and one of the most inspiring business leaders on our Bucket List. We talked business and art, in depth.
Ari authored of a series of great books called The Art of Business – which is built around the self-fulfilling belief cycle that Ari learned from Bob and Judith Wright of the Wright Institute in Chicago.
Ari, what is so special about the cycle?
Ari Weinzweig: "The cycle got me thinking in new ways. That seemingly simple little diagram turned an idea into a 600-page book.
The cycle starts out by showing how our beliefs lead us to take actions. In turn, our actions lead those around us to form their own beliefs; their beliefs in turn lead them to act accordingly; and their actions, it turns out, almost always reinforce our original beliefs.
This cycle is playing itself out in all of our lives, all day, every day."
What are your three biggest takeaways from it?
Ari Weinzweig: "First, what we believe has an enormous impact on how we act and how our lives are lived—in essence our beliefs are creating a lot (not all, I know) of our reality. As William James said, “Belief creates the actual fact.”
Second, what we believe alters what we see and experience—we tend to filter out information that doesn’t fit with what we believe, and we allow in the information that supports the beliefs we already hold.
Third, beliefs are not genetic. Rather, they’re all learned. Which means that we can choose the beliefs that are aligned with—and hence, most likely to get us to—the outcomes, lives, and businesses we’re trying to create."
There’s genius and a jewel-like spirit inside every single person you or I will ever meet.
How does art fits into this picture?
Ari Weinzweig: "I’d long had this idea of approaching business and life as art. It dawned on me that that artists—in my mind at least—would experience life differently from others.
It struck me that if life and business are art, then what we do and what we design are likely be more creative and more inspiring if we imagine ourselves as artists.
To be clear, I’m not saying that everyone needs to literally be a painter or a poet or play guitar. It’s really about a different way of being in, and viewing, the world. It’s something that any of us can apply to any part of our lives."
Why do you think that an artist would approach life differently?
Ari Weinzweig: "I do believe that a great artist pays more attention. At least to their areas of artistic focus. That’s true for all of us really—we tend to pay more attention to the areas of the world that matter most to us.
Visual artists, as one example, tend to notice colors, shadows, shading, and texture much more than the rest of us. Musicians listen to sound more mindfully. Writers take in all sorts of details because they provide material to use in essays and articles (at least I do). Poets choose their words with great care."
What’s your point?
Ari Weinzweig: "The point is that they’re all paying more attention. And it does make a meaningful difference. It’s my belief that there’s genius and a jewel-like spirit inside every single person you or I will ever meet. Thinking like an artist, living artistically, I’ve come to believe, helps bring that out of them.
A lot of us are unknowingly raised to live what writer and psychologist Ellen Langer calls “mindlessly.” It’s the opposite of mindfulness. Langer says, and I agree, that a large part of the world goes through its routines without giving a whole lot of thought to them other than doing them well enough to get by."
How would this play out in the workplace?
Ari Weinzweig: "If you imagine the difference between 50 people in a business who are mindfully, carefully, and caringly attending to nearly every action they take and treating each moment as if it matters in making the work of art that is their day, and compare that to a company with 50 people who are just going through the motions . . . that’s a pretty significant difference."
Imagine 50 people in a business who are mindfully, carefully, and caringly attending to nearly every action they take. Compare that to a company with 50 people who are just going through the motions . . . that’s a pretty significant difference!
Where did you get the idea from?
Ari Weinzweig: "Probably 25 years or so ago, I’d say I had negative beliefs about a lot of the organizational work that we needed to do. I’d seen it as drudgery, or a problem I 'had' to deal with. But when I started thinking of it as a creative act, the whole thing got a lot more interesting and a lot more rewarding.
Today, I’d use the metaphor of a beautifully designed garden. It looks great. It’s enjoyable. But it’s not just about surface level beauty. It works better below the surface too; more sustainably, enriching the soil, retaining water effectively, etc.
And although one can walk through it and casually appreciate it in a few minutes, it takes a lot of hard work, advance thought, skill, creativity, and care to make it what it is. It’s never perfect—even when it looks great there are still small things to work on, plants may not be healthy or need pruning, etc."
How does this idea translate into business?
Ari Weinzweig: "I believe ever more strongly that great businesses are unique in the way they put themselves together and the way they put themselves out there in the world. Great art is always a reflection of the soul and spirit of the person who makes it.
I love that line from Thelonius Monk about a 'genius is the one most like himself.' I agree. And I think it’s true of organizations. Great businesses are the ones that are “most like themselves.”
Just like an artist can consciously sense the pieces of it coming together in their head before it actually happens, an artistic approach to business has much the same approach."
Great businesses are unique in the way they put themselves together and the way they put themselves out there in the world.
What about the people doing “front line” work?
Ari Weinzweig: "One of the things that I think we do differently at Zingerman’s is to try to involve everyone in the organization in running the business. And to teach everyone to think like a business person and a leader.
So, in that sense, we’re attempting to give everyone at least some level of this opportunity to approach organizational design, product development, finance, customer service, etc. in creative, thinking, ways.
I think that the more we get everyone approaching their work and their lives that way, the better the business goes, and the more rewarding their lives are. It’s about encouraging them to be mindful about both the big picture of the organization’s health and well-being, and also about their own lives."
How has this idea made a difference for you?
Ari Weinzweig: "I pushed myself—or maybe the idea pushed me—to pay even more attention than I was already paying. I can say confidently that it’s pushed me to take more care with every action. To watch for all the details.
And listen to them and feel them and taste them. To try to bring even more love and grace and meaning to every tiny thing I do, to everyone I interact with. Pushed me even more than I already pushed myself to not take anything or anyone for granted. To be more appreciative than I’d already worked to become.
And the cool thing is that, in a good way, I can be much better at all of it still.
Great businesses are the ones that are “most like themselves.”
Robert Henri said it well: “Of course it is not easy to go one’s own road . . . After all, the goal is not making art. It is living a life. Those who live their lives will leave the stuff that is really art. Art is a result. It is the trace of those who have lead their lives.”
I hope that’s true for me and for our organization both. Approaching the building of our business as a work of art has made my own work infinitely more interesting."
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I’d long read articles and books concerning progressive organisations with a quiet envy. Envious and also slightly mystified as to how these businesses actually made it happen - when did the opportunity for such a significant change ever appear. All these transformative, adaptive, downright off-the-wall ways to revolutionise the way we do business - they all read well, really well - but I couldn’t get my head around how to take those first few radical steps.