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Business Visioning

New to Visioning? Read This First…

Ian Gurfield, Co-Founder of Ian’s Pizza, is a long-time client and dear friend of ZingTrain.

Below, he shares how he came to learn about Visioning, what the process of writing his first Vision was like and the impact it’s had on his business. And be sure to scroll down to to the end of this post to see his January 2018 Vision realized… it involves delicious Italian pizza!

Check it out below and prepared to be inspired!

Dear Vision Novice,

You’ve made a wise decision to learn how to write a vision.

Back in 2006, I attended the Creating a Vision of Greatness 2-day seminar.  It has had a profound impact on my life ever since.  At the time, of course, I couldn’t have predicted this.  In fact, I had doubts. Yes, the lessons and testimonial all sounded great, but once I left planet Zingerman’s would writing a vision make a difference?

Thirteen years later, I can definitively say, “yes!

Here is my story to prove it.

I started my business, Ian’s Pizza, in Madison, Wisconsin in 2001. We got lucky. Success came quickly, and by the summer of 2003 I was confronting a good problem:

What should I do next? Grow? Franchise? Stay small? Sell?

I had no clue.

Feeling totally lost, I called ZingTrain.

I explained my situation to Ann, the then Office Manager.  She assured me ZingTrain could help and invited me to attend the Zingerman’s Experience seminar.

I signed up on the spot.  Finally, someone had the answers I was seeking!

There is a lot I still remember about my first ZingTrain seminar.  I remember where I sat.  I remember Paul Saginaw (Zingerman’s Founding Partner) greeting me when I arrived.  I remember Ari Weinzweig (Zingerman’s Founding Partner) telling me the solution to my problem was having a clear, inspiring vision.   And I especially remember my disappointment when he told me ZingTrain didn’t have an off-the-shelf vision, perfectly tailored to my needs, ready for me to take home.

Zingerman’s would not be the savior I had hoped for.

That savior would have to be me.

A few weeks later, I carved out time to write a vision for Ian’s Pizza.   My first attempt was, well, pretty crappy.  It was so bad, in fact, I swore at my computer.  And then at myself. And, I will confess, at Zingerman’s, too.

For the next year, I avoided visioning work.  I decided I wasn’t good at it and there was more important work that needed my attention.

Then, one day, I received an email from ZingTrain inviting me to the inaugural Creating a Vision of Greatness seminar.

Thinking I didn’t have much to lose, I signed up.  At least, I would get my money’s worth in the form of all of the cinnamon buns I planned to eat at breakfast.

The time off from visioning work actually helped me approach the concept from a better perspective.

You know that phrase (I’ve heard Ari say it a bunch), “When the student is ready, the teacher appears”?

Well, I must have been ready because I learnt a lot more than I expected.

Back home, I made a fresh attempt to write a vision.  The first draft was, again, terrible. But, this time I didn’t get dejected.   Even if you are a good writer, visioning work requires developing a new kind of “writing muscle.”   The lousy drafts were teaching me something valuable. Namely, I was figuring out the process of how to write a great vision.  This continued until, finally, something clicked.  I could see the Matrix.

With newfound confidence, in early 2008 I organized and lead a company-wide effort to write a 2020 vision.  The whole process took about 14 months.  It was one of the best experiences I’ve had in my 18 years of running a business.

Once the vision was finalized, I thought it would be smooth sailing ahead.

Man, was I wrong.

A few months later, we entered a turbulent time.  Key employees left, we lost a store, and at one point, the break-up of the business was openly discussed.

All of the work that had gone into crafting a long term vision seemed like a waste.

Except it wasn’t.  In fact, it helped us get through.

On multiple occasions, I heard people reference the vision as an incentive to continue working with Ian’s Pizza.  Having a vision gave people a clear picture of what they were staying for.   To my delightful surprise, the vision had become part of us.

For the last eight years we’ve steadily built the business.  It hasn’t always been pretty, or as process driven as I would like.  But the size, structure and principles we operate by today are consistent with what we envisioned in 2008.  By 2020, we wrote that we would be a $15 million business. Guess what? We are on pace to hit that next year.

The other thing that is going to happen next year is that it will be 2020, which means our current vision will be outdated.

Once again, I am leading the project to write a 2030 vision.

I’m currently working on the fifth draft and really like how things are coming together. Reading what I’ve written, I get excited. And others do to (this part is key). I’ve also come to enjoy the process.   I enjoy teaching our staff visioning work. I enjoy reading other people’s visions. And I even enjoy the struggle of writing lousy drafts. Go figure.

I can’t imagine where we would be if I hadn’t provided our organization with a clear and inspiring long-term vision.

Hands down, Visioning is the single most important thing I’ve done as a leader, and I am eternally grateful to ZingTrain for what I learnt in this seminar.

My hope for you is that you discover you are a visioning savant.  Someone who just “gets it” right away.

If you’re like me though, it will probably take time.  Don’t despair or give in to excuses. I’ve encountered many people who struggle with the concept and argue against it.  Some people think it’s too “touchy-feely.” Or that it’s only for “creative people.” Others prefer to “live in the moment” and want to have the “freedom to seize opportunities.” I’ve heard it all.

Having spent a good chunk of time on this concept there is one thing I’ve come to believe. Everyone has a vision of success for themselves on some level. Unfortunately, that vision is often buried under a bunch of emotional gobble-y-goo.   You know, that voice inside your head that tells you, you suck and aren’t worthy.  If you can be honest, patient, and courageous, you will be able to articulate the great vision that is inside of you.

One benefit of taking the Creating a Vision of Greatness seminar is connecting with other participants and learning from each other.  While we’ve never met, I’m happy to include myself in your group. So if you find yourself swearing at your computer, yourself, or me, reach out for help.  After all, the best way I can thank ZingTrain for everything I’ve learnt is by paying it forward.

Best of luck,

Ian Gurfield
Co-Founder of Ian’s Pizza


At the time of publishing this blog post, Ian had just made a Vision he wrote in January 2018 come to life with a trip to Italy! We can only imagine how delicious that pizza must have been…

Ian Gurfield Vision Come to Life!

Ian Gurfield Vision Come to Life!