Romanticizing Classic Literature

When my sister and her family visited me during Christmas, my nephew looked at my crowded bookshelf. "Too much to choose from" was his judgement so I picked one for him, forever taking on the role of trying to instill the importance of education and literature. I don't know why I selected Robert M. Pirsigs "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values". Perhaps because I was his roughly age when I read it.

He took one look at it, shook his head and returned it to me. "It's a classic!", I said. "Never heard of it, and by the way, I though a classic was like Homer or something", he replied. "It's a modern classic", I insisted and returned the book, "and it's not at all about motorcycle maintenance." I'm not sure he will read it, but I hope so because there is much to learn from that book and I hope I have done that.

Using one of the themes in the book, I would classify myself as a romantic. At least when it comes to motorcycle maintenance. I love riding a motorbike, but I have no interest whatsoever in learning how the motor works. However, I think (hope?) maybe that I to some extent have achieved combining the romantic and the classical aspects in life.

When it comes to quality, I aspire to perform well in whatever I do. I pride myself on having a very high lowest level. Using a scale from 1 to 5, I try to be a steady 4+. Using any version of the Project Management Triangle, I try to do things cost and time efficiently. I see no point in spending lots and lots of time (both in terms of quantity and calendar) on trying to make something perfect, since as time goes by, things change.

I assume that quality is under discussion in all kinds of areas, although I'm not sure that Pirsig's metaphysics can provide a foundation for all of them. Having a background in software development and being especially fond of the Capability Maturity Model, I do like the Consortium for IT Software Quality (CISQ) approach (although there are plenty of others). CISQ has defined five major desirable characteristics of a piece of software needed to provide business value: reliability, efficiency, security, maintainability, and appropriate size. This is a mix of functional and non-functional aspect, which is becoming more and more important especially in this Internet-of-Things era.

I'm fully aware of that my aspiration to always deliver good results keeps me from trying out things I don't think I'll be good at. This in turn means that although I have more than one string to my bow, my inflow of experiences to some extent is limited. Experiences that could be useful in a changing world, make me more resilient. For example, one thing I wouldn't do is discuss the quality of Pirsigs books, but fortunately that has already been done by Nathaniel Rich.

He points out that to some extent, Pirsig foreboded the society we find ourselves in right now:"It is a nostalgic, old-fashioned novel that nevertheless reflects the malaise of its era and prefigures our own technophiliac age". One example of the latter, according to Rich, is that that many business-oriented magasines quote Pirsig, such as Forbes:

"And while Pirsig does not get too much into religion, his underlying point is clear – get your specs nailed (the Science), add some good design (the Art) and immerse yourself. The state of mind which enables a man to do work of this kind is akin to that of a religious worshipper or love. The daily effort comes from no deliberate intention or program, but straight from the heart. Those three filters – logic, creativity and soul — apply to everything in life, not just startups."

But perhaps, the best lesson for entrepreneurs to be learned from Pirsig is that although his work was rejected by more than 100 times, he never gave up. When finally published, the book sold in more than 5 million copies.

Some Pirsig quotes, where the last one is my current favourite (don't skip the others!):

  • “If you have a high evaluation of yourself then your ability to recognize new facts is weakened.” 
  • “We take a handful of sand from the endless landscape of awareness around us and call that handful of sand the world.”
  • “If you get careless or go romanticizing scientific information, giving it a flourish here and there, Nature will soon make a complete fool out of you.” 
  • “The way to solve the conflict between human values and technological needs is not to run away from technology. That’s impossible. The way to resolve the conflict is to break down the barrier of dualistic thought that prevent a real understanding of what technology is – not an exploitation of nature, but a fusion of nature and the human spirit into a new kind of creation that transcends both.”
  • “To live only for some future goal is shallow. It’s the sides of the mountain which sustain life, not the top. Here’s where things grow.” 
  • “The pencil is mightier than the pen.” 
  • “You look at where you're going and where you are and it never makes much sense, but then you look back at where you've been and a pattern seems to emerge. And if you project forward from that pattern, then sometimes you can come up with something.” 
  • “The place to improve the world is first in one's own heart and head and hands, and then work outward from there.” 
  • “We’re in such a hurry most of the time we never get much chance to talk. The result is a kind of endless day-to-day shallowness, a monotony that leaves a person wondering years later where all the time went and sorry that it’s all gone.” 
  • “Is it hard?' Not if you have the right attitudes. Its having the right attitudes thats hard.” 
  • “Peace of mind produces right values, right values produce right thoughts. Right thoughts produce right actions and right actions produce work which will be a material reflection for others to see of the serenity at the center of it all.” 
  • “If a revolution destroys a systematic government, but the systematic patterns of thought that produced that government are left intact, then those patterns will repeat themselves in the succeeding government. There’s so much talk about the system. And so little understanding.” 
  • “When you live in the shadow of insanity, the appearance of another mind that thinks and talks as yours does is something close to a blessed event.” 
  • “To reach him you have to back up and back up, and the further back you go, the further back you see you have to go, until what looked like a small problem of communication turns into a major philosophic inquiry.” 
  • “Some things you miss because they’re so tiny you overlook them. But some things you don’t see because they’re so huge.” 
  •  “One of the most moral acts is to create a space in which life can move forward.”

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