Home > BOOK REVIEWS > Book Review: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Book Review: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

A few good quotes & passages that I wanted to share:

On classifying people: “Cliches and stereotypes such as ‘beatnik’ or ‘hippie’ have been invented for the antitechnologists, the antisystem people, and will continue to be. But one does not convert individuals into mass people with the simple coining of  a mass term.” (emphasis mine) Pg.16

On over-analyzing: “When analytic thought, the knife, is applied to experience, something is always killed in the process. That is fairly well understood, at least in the arts. Mark Twain’s experience comes to mind, in which, after he had mastered the analytic knowledge needed to pilot the Mississippi River, he discovered the river had lost its beauty. Something is always killed. But what is less noticed in the arts — something is always created too. And instead of just dwelling on what is killed it’s important also to see what’s created and to see the process as a kind of death-birth continuity that is neither good nor bad, but just is.” (emphasis mine) Pgs.70-71

On systems: “To speak of certain government and establishment institutions as ‘the system’ is to speak correctly, since these organizations are founded upon the same structural conceptual relationships as a motorcycle. They are sustained by structural relationships even when they have lost all other meaning and purpose. People arrive at a factory and perform a totally meaningless task from eight to five without question because the structure demands that it be that way. There’s no villain, no ‘mean guy’ who wants them to live meaningless lives, it’s just that the structure, the system demands it and no one is willing to take on the formidable task of changing the structure just because it’s meaningless.

But to tear down a factory or to revolt against a government or to avoid repair of a motorcycle because it is a system is to attack effects rather than causes; and as long as the attack is upon effects only, no change is possible (emphasis mine). The true system, the real system, is our present construction of systematic thought itself, rationality itself, and if a factory is torn down but the rationality which produced it is left standing, then that rationality will simply produce another factory. 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.” Pgs.87-88

Wow – this book came out in 1974 but that last passage could have been written this year. General Motors, Microsoft and most recently BP are all good examples of institutions that will fail to change until they integrate new people with fresh ideas.

Innovation always has to come from the top and it doesn’t matter how smart, creative or talented a company’s employees are if they’re in an environment that stifles change.

BUY IT ON AMAZON Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values (P.S.)


Speaking of poor corporate culture, “Light Touch Key to Product Innovation” on WARC points to a Nielsen study that “…found that greater involvement among senior managers in the ideation and creation processes generally leads to launches that enjoy lower success rates.” Nice.

On the flip side, here’s Ed Cotton’s post on Amazon’s acquisition of Zappos, a company that champions culture: “Zappos and the Power of Soft Intangibles

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