Afterword: the power of belief in cheese

Interview by Sarah Spira, ACS Content Manager

“What kind of hope do I hope for? I hope that tomorrow can be better than today; that our work will make a difference, that if we work hard and go after greatness, good things will happen. I hope that we can contribute positively to our emotional intellectual and financial improvement, and that of others around us.”
-The Power of Beliefs in Business

At “Cheese in the Heartland” in Des Moines this summer, Ari Weinzweig addressed members with a keynote speech inspired by his recent book, “The Power of Belief in Business.” The central tenet of the book is that what we believe is likely to happen will happen, and in turn, will reinforce our beliefs. He turns to the metaphor of an ecosystem to explain his holistic approach: Beliefs are the roots, hope is the sun, and what stems from our beliefs grows towards that sun (towards hope). Through visioning, we can orient ourselves towards the future.

“Visions help us hold course; when there’s internal or external pressure to slide back to our old beliefs, re-reading the vision can help us keep moving in our desired direction. Visions can help us enlist support from others and internalize for ourselves the new future state we’re going after.”

I began to reflect on how, in the cheese industry, we create hope. It’s not that great of a stretch to apply Ari’s metaphor to cheese. Cheesemaking is a process: it takes time and care to go from lush, diverse pasture to a complex nutrient-dense food. During the aging process, a cheese’s progress is monitored patiently, as we await a delicious outcome. With patience and hope in process, and an investment of time and energy, one can make something beautiful, and with that, offer a promise of futurity. “Hope” Ari writes, “helps pull people and ideas up, moving us forward – expansively and effectively – to a better future.”

Last week, I called Ari to talk a bit more about his book, and to expand on applying the metaphor of an ecosystem to the cheese industry. I asked Ari to help identify components in our sustainable “ecosystem of beliefs” that will allow us to keep up the work of traditional cheesemaking, and foster the ripening and development of a delicious future for our industry. How do we till the soil, and set the stage for the next generation of cheese professionals to succeed? How would he envision building hope in our industry? How can we harness the power of belief to create a hopeful vision for the next generation of cheese professionals?

Ari: “ACS, in general, is a hope-generating organization, and Conference itself does those things (referring to the Hope Star*; see page 319 of the book). Hope being the sun – we as humans are attracted to hopeful settings. It’s hard to not think about it when you are surrounded by good energy. One of the great things about Conference is being exposed to companies doing good things, showing people it is possible to have a better future.

By continuing to bring to the foreground the stories of those who are succeeding, we show pathways. There may be roadblocks, and it can be frustrating, but it is important to keep an open mind. The visioning process describes a robust, detailed future: Having only the singular path to get there creates a problem. If you’re totally committed to getting to your vision and there’s only one way to do it, and that path gets blocked, the tendency is to give up. When people have one clear goal but multiple ideas about how to make it happen, then if one path is blocked, they can just try a second or third or fourth…and keep trying until they get there. It is essential to stay open and flexible, and to see the good in a situation. Having positive beliefs…it’s not sugar coating, it’s about the way in which we frame a response.

Sure, there are challenges. Here is an example: A challenge used to be that people didn’t know great cheese. The strength/opportunity in that? There is a huge market to reach. Now, one of our challenges is that there is a lot of great cheese. But the strength? More consumers know about it.

There is a good culture to the industry, and people are drawn to being a part of a great organization: it feels good. In my books, I talk about “energy management.” This is a great example.

This work matters, and by communication daily, engaging with people who are involved in the creation of the product every step of the way, [we are] creating hope. This shows people how their work matters. Each of us must figure out how to continue to find ways to connect. It’s easy to get lost in the business side of things, but to show people how their work matters, we must find ways to get out there and make that connection.

We have an opportunity to work with something we believe [in], but we need to make a living. It’s important that our belief system is in line with our mission and vision. There is so much opportunity, the market is much richer in terms of offerings, consumers more educated. There is plenty of room for growth.”

*Six actions we can take to generate hope

  1. Help people see a better future
  2. Help people see how they might get to that future
  3. Show people how much they matter
  4. Help people see how much their work matters
  5. Help people see how small steps are the keys to success
  6. Show people how they fit into a larger whole

*from The Power of Beliefs in Business