Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Series: leadership April 25, 2017

Robert M Pirsig, author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, passed away yesterday. Zen was about a motorcycle trip he and his son took across the US. But the book is not about motorcycles, adventure or Americana. It’s really about philosophy and the human mind. Here’s one of my favourite quotes from the book:

Normally screws are so cheap and small and simple you think of them as unimportant. But now, as your Quality awareness becomes stronger, you realize that this one, individual, particular screw is neither cheap nor small nor unimportant. Right now this screw is worth exactly the selling price of the whole motorcycle, because the motorcycle is actually valueless until you get the screw out. With this reevaluation of the screw comes a willingness to expand your knowledge of it.

There are many things in our lives that we don’t think of as important or having high value. There are simple, almost indistinguishable things like the carrots you used in your pasta sauce. Or insignificant things that exist in ample abundance like an individual line of code you wrote or a single word in a lengthy email.

You do have an ample abundance of lines of code, don’t you?

There are also many actions and behaviours we undervalue. Simple things we may think as being boring, overrated, or kitschy. We value the big words. Leadership. Marriage. Parenthood. We get sentimental about those things.

But what about a quick and simple “thank you” to a coworker who contributed to a project.

Or yelling “I love you” to your spouse as you’re on your way out the door.

Or reading a book with your kids at night.

Those things don’t get much fanfare. We probably don’t give them a second thought. We might even rush through them so we can get on with our busy day in pursuit of a big idea.

But personal development is guided through the accumulation of big and small appreciations and recognitions. A single one is as meaningful as months of coaching.

And grand romantic gestures certainly contribute to a marriage but love fades without small but frequent expressions of affection. A single habitual “I love you” is as meaningful as the entire sequence.

And the relationship you build with your children is based upon the foundation of routines like reading books. This single book is as meaningful as the entire experience.

There is great value in the small things.

Thanks for the insights, Robert. Rest in peace.


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