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  • Nick Smith

J is for Joel Peterson, Godfather of Zin


Joel Peterson changed the world of wine - at least for Zinfandel. Starting in 1976 he built Ravenswood from a standing start to annual production of around one million cases, so that (at peak) one in four bottles of red Zinfandel sold globally was from Ravenswood. Joel led Ravenswood through this, and contributed to industry initiatives that further changed for good how Zinfandel was made and how it was seen.


But he stepped away from that after forty years - in his words - 'to look backwards', returning to his original vision. He wanted to make wine, and leading a business making one million cases of wine was getting in the way. It was time to get his hands dirty. He says his new winery, Once and Future, is built around a rule that "I will only make as much wine as I physically can make myself". He doesn't mean literally doing everything himself, but he does want to be able to shape and influence at a detailed level, producing "wines of sweat, exertion, and love".


So what's that got to do with Business Change? Good question, and while I'm convinced the answer is 'quite a bit', I feel I'm still figuring it out. I think it's something to do with the ways in which we risk limiting our understanding of transformation to models of change that initially have scale and are comprehensive in scope; or the ways in which we risk not seeing the transformative power of small things (a mustard seed); or even the ways in which amongst the sweat and exertion we lose the love - and the impact that has on the change and the teams we lead. Time to read Schumacher again, perhaps.


Some practical steps? How about:

  • We recognise the potential downside of large transformation initiatives. For example, how the scale may both drive a need for programmatic control that stifles or obscures grass-roots innovation and also keeps the change leader away from the 'front line', limiting her ability to have a direct impact on what and how things are done. We need to find ways to mitigate the impact of these factors

  • We work hard to stay open to different models of transformation. Maybe it's the skunk works, the unforeseen impacts of pandemic, or the emerging patterns of unbidden front line behaviours that have the potential to really change mindsets and thereby transform the business. Will we spot these, and nurture them rather than stifling them?

  • Checking we love, or can find a way to love, what we're doing. If that's not the case, it's going to impact on our change leadership, on those whom we lead, and ultimately on the change itself.

And, if you drink wine, Joel Peterson's wines really are worth a try.

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