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Archive for July 2012

The Experience Economy

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I read just about every blog entry from Seth Godin.  They are frequent, short, and insightful.

Here is a recent entry

Improving your condiments
It takes a bold and confident cook to serve a naked hot dog. No roll, no kraut, no mustard.

And a movie shown on a bare wall in an empty room is never going to be received as well as one seen in a crowded theater.

It might be bold to put your work into the world unadorned, but it’s probably ineffective.

We know that a placebo works better if it’s handed to you by a doctor in a lab coat, and that the little show the sommelier puts on improves the taste of wine.

The packaging, the service, the environment, the hours, the interactions, the way it feels to tell our friends–these are all the free prize.

This bonus, the extra free prize that doesn’t seem to be the point of the item itself, is often more important than the thing you think you actually make. The single most effective way to improve your impact is to do a better job of providing it.

Sure, a better hot dog is always appreciated. But when you want to increase user satisfaction, don’t forget to offer better mustard.

Seth has a good story.  But, it’s illustrative of a general principle of ascending the value chain.  Anyone who has a product or service that has the trajectory of commodity should understand this model.  Once you have something that is a commodity – and only a commodity – you compete only on price and margins will erode to the cost of production.  (Think about desktop PC’s)

Walking the value chain

Here is another example of what Seth is writing about.  

Consider a coffee bean.  Coffee is a commodity.    It is fungible.  Traded on the commodity market maybe it goes for $1 per pound.  Translated to cup of coffee that’s about 1-2 cents per cup.  A commodity cup of coffee is, lets say, 2 cents

Take those commodity coffee beans, package them, brand them, and sell them in a grocery store.  Now you have a good.  The commodity of coffee beans transformed into a good is now worth about 5-25 cents a cup.  Make a cup of coffee at home.

Brew the coffee beans and offer them in a coffee shop.  Now you have a service.  Transforming a commodity into a good and then into a service might net you 50 cents to $1 a cup of coffee.

Now take that cup of coffee (a service) and put it in a Starbucks or any high end coffee shop.  Now you have an experience.  The commodity coffee beans transformed to a high-end experience might now fetch $5-$10 per cup of coffee.

Commodity -> Good -> Service -> Experience. 

The Take

So think about this progression.  Take a commodity and transform it from a commodity, to a good, to a service and then an experience.  Each step increases the value of the commodity AND the price (increasing margin) you can charge for it.  The only reason that a high end coffee shop can charge $5-$10 for a cup of coffee is because they have added a memorable experience of having coffee.   They have walked up the value chain.

Starbucks stages an experience.  That experience perishes upon its performance.  But the value of the experience lingers in the memory – it is memorable by those engaged in the experience.  You will be back.  In a sense, the lowly coffee bean is merely a prop in a grand performance of the experience of a high-end coffee shop and lavish surroundings.  That’s how you compete and make money in a world of increasing undifferentiated commoditization.

If you are old enough to remember Cracker Jack then you know about “Free Prize Inside”.  Did you buy Cracker Jack for the candy-coated popcorn or did you buy it for the “Free Prize Inside”.  Would you buy Cracker Jack without the Prize? 

Getting the Free Prize Inside was the experience that transformed a box of commodity candy-coated popcorn into something that kids would buy.  That’s how you make money.  It’s the experience.  It’s the “Free Prize Inside” that tranforms commodities and creates a differentiation between you and the competitors.

It’s an idea as old as the hills.  And it works.

Written by frrl

July 30, 2012 at 5:36 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

How to undermine an organization

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If you take the time to observe small organizations you will see lots of interesting behavior.  Organizations ripe for interesting behavior include non-profits like church groups, clubs, home owner’s associations, condo boards and all the rest where people form groups of common interest or purpose.

Domination and control.  Why?

Why is it that someone always wants to dominate and control things?  By “dominate and control” I don’t mean the sort of personality like Apple CEO Steve Jobs.  Or, the domination and control of a turnaround CEO that a Board of Directors brings in to transform a company.

Of course, if you want to continually renew an organization to take advantage of emerging external opportunity and internal strengths then, like Steve Jobs, you need to exercise some measure of control.  In the case of a turnaround CEO, that person – with blessing of the Board of Directors –  needs the authority and control to change the corporate strategy and the operating model.  Changing the operating model of an organization to align with strategy can result in a radical transformation of people and processes including layoffs and new hires best fit for the new organizational structure.

The differentiator  – Goals and measurable results vs a culture of fiefdoms and “Because I said so”

Sure, Steve Jobs comes in and upsets the Apple cart of Macintosh computer users (and the organization) by introducing the iPhone and dropping “Computer” from the corporate name and brand identity.  Apple Computer becomes just “Apple”.  What does this signal to employees inside Apple – especially those working on Macintosh computer products?

And the turnaround CEO that shakes things up?  The focus is on making a company fit to compete in the marketplace from a position of unhealth.  When Jack Welch came in as CEO of GE he divested the company of hundreds of businesses and thousands of people.

What I have in mind is what happens to some smaller organizations.  Those organizations that are not key players in corporate america but are key players in some people’s lives.  Organizations like church groups, home owners associations, condo boards, clubs, and the like.  Any small group for that matter – even a goup of friends.

Organizational Bullying

These small organizations are an excellent opportunity for someone to see an opening for this “domination and control” behavior typified by a “Because I said so” rationale for decisions.  The opportunity is generally a small group of people who can be manipulated plus the lack of any real measures of the organizations success.  Given this combination, these folks who want to dominate and control have a fertile playground. 

Since no one is keeping score any organizational performance is acceptable.  The organization can degenerate into one or more fiefdoms.  Unfortunately, in many cases, the protection of these fiefdoms can replace and supersedes any of the stated goals of the organization – if they exist.  People work not to advance the organization but to protect and perpetuate their fiefdom as a medieval feudal lord.

Sometimes this behavior goes under the name of “Organizational Bullying”.

Here’s a clip from the Graziadio School of Business and Management at Pepperdine University

…one of the surest ways for an organization to fail is to tolerate workplace bullying. Bullies not only stifle productivity and innovation throughout the organization, they most often target an organization’s best employees, because it is precisely those employees who are the most threatening to bullies. As a result, enterprises are robbed of their most important asset in today’s competitive economic environment – precious human capital.

The problem with workplace bullying is that many bullies are hard to identify because they operate surreptitiously under the guise of being civil and cooperative.

The purpose of this article is to review current research on workplace bullying, to help organizations learn how to identify bullies, and to suggest ways that an organization can eliminate this workplace toxin.

How to Identify Bullying Behavior

Recent commentators have used different ways to describe bullying behavior, but they agree that a bully is only interested in maintaining his or her power and control.[2] Because bullies are cowards and are driven by deep-seated insecurities and fears of inadequacy, they intentionally wage a covert war against an organization’s best employees – those who are highly-skilled, intelligent, creative, ethical, able to work well with others, and independent (who refuse to be subservient or controlled by others).[3] Bullies can act alone or in groups.[4] Bullying behavior can exist at any level of an organization. Bullies can be superiors, subordinates, co-workers and colleagues.[5]

Bullying is not about being “tough” or insisting on high standards.[7] It is “abusive disrespect.”[8] In Dr. Hornstein’s view bullies fall into 3 types:

  Characteristics
Conquerors Only interested in power and control and protecting their turf.
They try to make others feel less powerful.
Can act DIRECTLY (e.g. insulting and/or rude words or gestures, [or tones] or INDIRECTLY ( e.g. orchestrating battles and watching others disembowel each other).
Performers Suffer from low self-esteem so belittle targeted persons (can be obvious or subtle put-downs).
Manipulators Interested only in themselves.
Easily threatened and vindictive.
Experts at lying, deceiving and betraying.
Take credit for the work of others.
Never take responsibility for their own “errors.”

You can read the rest of the article in the link below including some suggesting on how to mitigate and guard against these folks.

The Take

I have seen a few organizations of like-minded individuals try to start a group or club.  There seems to be a high preponderance of those folks who see this as a misguided opportunity for them to step in.  The first thing they want to do is to make all the rules.  They want to dominate and control.  If you look into the background of some of these folks you will find that they are individuals who have had a less than successful career.  Or, that they have never had any sort of management responsibility.   They see this new group as an opportunity to “get ahead” with a title or position which they could never achieve in their workplace.

Perhaps many of these people just transfer how they were treated in the workplace to this new opportunity.  That is, they are task-level individual contributors who have little discretion in what they do.  Sometimes these folks were micro-managed.  These folks may have never been entrusted with any organizational management or leadership responsibility.  And so they find an opportunity with a weak group of people where they can treat other people exactly how they were treated.  

They mistakenly understand management as “command and control” and not empowerment and enablement to achieve the organizations goals.  In short, they think… I will treat you like I have been treated.  They are simply “passing it on” as Wally might do as suggested in the cartoon at the top of this posting.  This could be called: the revenge of the powerless.  What other models of management does Wally have other than being bullied?  So, “pay it forward”.  “My turn”.

There may be a link between organizational bullies and Sociopathy (see link below – The Sociopath Next Door)

A potential solution

That these bullies are allowed to exist in any organization can be tracked to poor leadership.  Sometimes leaders lack the courage to remove these bullies placing their own emotional distress at dong this over the ultimate goals of the organization and responsibility to the organizations stakeholders. 

If leaders can not act then this empowers the bullies behavior even more.  They know they can get away with it and so they do more of it.  They leverage an asymmetric relationship where they can inflict emotional distress on the leader  to the point of disarming them while having no conscience themselves on what they are doing to other people or the organization as a whole.

If the bully is the leader trying  to start a new organization then they will soon find the new organization evaporate before their eyes.  No one wants to be treated with “abusive disrespect”.  Maybe they will then try elsewhere with a weaker group of people.

One solution to organizational bullies is for the manager or leader to set measurable organizational goals for the bully and hold them accountable.  These goals should only be achievable as a team effort.  If they can’t achieve these goals then there is easy justification for removing them from the organization.  If they do succeed then perhaps they will develop a more productive working relationship with others mitigating their desire to protect turf, build fiefdoms, withhold information, disempower people, and other characteristics mentioned in the Pepperdine article that undermines the performance of organizations.

Bullies are everywhere undermining organizations every day.  Now that you know what to look for – what do you see?  And, what will you do?

Resources

Are Workplace Bullies Sabotaging Your Ability to Compete?  (cached copy)

The Sociopath Next Door: The Ruthless Versus the Rest of Us

The danger of a bully in Consensus-based decision-making
The C-word: Consensus

Overcoming the Fiefdom Syndrome

Written by frrl

July 23, 2012 at 5:40 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

What to learn about community from traffic in India

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At a recent conference, Rachel Happe gave a presentation titled: The Business of Community,  Rachel is principle and Co-Founder of the Community Roundtable.  ( http://community-roundtable.com/ ).  Rachel gave an interesting analogy between traffic in India and the way communities operate.

To an American, the picture above looks like pure chaos.  It looks like chaos to Americans because we are familiar with a more organized, linear, structured, and disciplined approach to driving.  It is also the case that the majority of organizations look more like traffic in America than traffic in India.  That is, organizations are hierarchical and structured.  Organizations are organized and rational.  Organizations have “lanes” and traffic signals.  Organizations have rules of the road.  If you don’t learn the rules of the road and observe them, in the organizational sense, then you will be a danger to yourself and others.

But, increasingly, much innovative work gets done in community.  These may be communities within an organization.  These also may be communities within the corporation that extend to alliance partners and customers.  The great thing is that communities are liquid.  They can form any time; they can take on shape.

To people who spent most of their corporate lives in the 20’th century the way community looks to them is like an American driver looking at traffic in India – frightening.  Expect the C-Suite of 50-something CEO’s, CFO’s, COO’s and the like to react with some hesitation to your social business experiment.

From my notes, here are some points on the analogy between traffic in India and the way communities in business work.

  1. Community, like traffic in India, is not linear or logical
  2. You can’t wait for everything to get organized.  You just need to go with it.
  3. You can’t control it
  4. There are no lanes as such in India.  But there are gaps.  Drivers, like community members, look for gaps and fill them.
  5. Everyone is responsible for outcomes.  Drivers and community members get to where they need to go.  Everyone takes responsibility.
  6. The traffic cops in India stand on the sidewalk.  In America, traffic cops stand in the middle of the street and direct traffic.  If the cops in India stood in the middle of the street they would get run over.  Same with hierarchical executives in community.  Stand on the side, or you will get run over.
  7. Traffic in India sounds like a cacophony.  But it’s not. There subtle social cues that all drivers come to know.  One horn beep means on thing, two beeps another, flashing lights at night mean something different.  Same with people in community.  They have subtle social cues which they come to know as part of the dynamic interaction.

If you need another analogy then try sports.  Consider the difference between American football and basketball.  Football is top-down strategic planning at its best.  At the opposite extreme is basketball where there is constant movement which creates gaps and opportunities on a continuous basis.  If you ever watched the Chicago Bulls with Jordan, Pippen, and Rodman you could see how they took cues from each others moves to get into the right position to score the points.  In basketball the strategy to score is always evolving – emergent from the game itself.  In football there are separate phases – plan the strategy and then execute.  To a football player perhaps basketball looks like chaos.  The same is true when traditional organizations look to community to innovate products and business models.

According to Rachel, the future of competitive advantage will be in the power of relationships – across employees, the company alliance partners, with customers, and other stakeholders.  The thinking goes that relationships is every companies weakest link.  And if you can excel at community and relationships you will have an advantage – all other things being equal.

So what’s new?

So hasn’t all this always been the case?  People working across networks of relationships?  Sure.  But what is different now is the technology that extends the reach of community from neighborhoods to the World.  That’s the game-changer in this old idea of community and networks.

The Road to Community

Below is a slide showing a maturity model of Community across the dimensions of Strategy, Leadership, Culture, Community Management, Content and Programming, Policies and Governance, Tools, and Metrics and Measurements.

The Take

I won’t say that the traditional hierarchical organization is obsolete.  But at least it’s under fire and being tested as the best way to deal with product and business model innovation.  Every FORTUNE 500 company is under intense competitive pressure.  If Rachel is right and the weakest link of any organization is in its relationships then a company that is farther along on the community maturity model just might have an advantage – all other things being equal.  The challenge to adoption is that the workings of community look like chaos to executives in traditional organizations.  But, if it can deliver superior results, then who cares about the structure?

Some have even questioned if the idea of a corporation is obsolete.  As an example, look at the success of LINUX.  LINUX is a community success story.  It’s a stunning success story where the open source community, working over the internet, as a self-organizing team, can create a product to rival the Windows operating system created by a traditional hierarchical billion dollar corporation.

“May you live in interesting times” is a common quote.  It’s both a proverb and a curse.

Clearly, something interesting is happening.  The curse will be to those organizations that can’t experiment and aren’t adaptive.

Resources

http://community-roundtable.com/blog/

Related: Liquid Networks – That’s how we roll

Related: Riding the bus with “Spiffy”: forging informal networks of people 10 seconds at a time

From McKinsey – Harnessing the power of employee networks

Check out a community approach to Strategic Planning.  Top-down strategic planners take note..
Strategic Planning the WikiMedia Way

Written by frrl

July 16, 2012 at 3:02 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Amateur Radio: National Traffic System (NTS) – When all else fails. Or, When Twitter is down!

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There are a lot of people who read this blog that know nothing about Amateur Radio. Perhaps some of you are wondering about the doomsday scenario – no doubt to befall us at the end of the Mayan calendar in December 2012. Or perhaps it’s a lesser event, such as a hurricane or some other disaster.

No more global communication for you…

So what do you do when your smartphone is down? You know, that global communication device in your pocket. If you lose that no more texting, no more twittering, you can’t send a photograph, you won’t know your GPS location, you won’t be able to stream a movie. If you lose the capability of that smartphone device you won’t be able to pay for the mocha latte at Starbucks. If you lose the capability of that device you won’t be able to have a video chat with aunt Mary to see if she is OK. Forget the face-time video, you won’t even be able to talk to her.  Given this new situation, you won’t be able to update your Facebook status and alert your friends of your situation.  Surely,  in the context of our always-connected digital life, the world has ended.

In short, your global communication device and all the infrastructure that has to be working to support it – is gone.  What now?

Amateur Radio National Traffic System

Never fear. Amateur Radio has something called the National Traffic System (NTS). In brief (there are a lot of links to detailed info below) Amateur Radio operators, using a network of point to point private radio systems will get your all important message to just about anywhere in the world.

The NTS  is “idling” when not in use for the Mayan end of the world or a local or national disaster. Amateur Radio operators are sending self-generated messages to constantly ensure that the network of volunteer operators, the network, and the radio equipment is up and working.

How it works…

The Wikipedia has a somewhat colorful example of how the Amateur Radio National Traffic System works. Here it is:

This process is best explained by an example. Let’s say that someone in Minnesota wants to send a birthday greeting to Aunt Mary in California. They telephone their local ham friend and give him the message.

At 6:30 local time, the Minnesota ham attends (“checks in to”) the Minnesota Section net. One station there has been designated to accept all outgoing messages, and Aunt Mary’s message is sent to that station.
At 7:45, the station who received the message checks in to the Region net. This net consists of representatives from all the section nets in the region, and one station has been designated to accept all traffic that flows out of the region. Aunt Mary’s greeting will be sent to this station.
At 8:30, the station from the region checks into the Area net and sends Aunt Mary’s greeting to the designated representative from the Pacific area.
At 8:30 Pacific Time, the Pacific Area net meets. (All the area nets meet at 8:30 local time; since they are in different time zones there is no overlap.) At this point the process is repeated in the opposite order
The area representative sends the message to the appropriate region representative,
The region representative meets a later session of the region net and sends the message to the appropriate section representative,
The section representative meets a later section net and sends the message to the closest operator to Aunt Mary’s home
The final recipient calls Aunt Mary on the telephone and delivers the greeting.

Perhaps this sounds rather complex, but it really isn’t. Each net uses the same procedure and operating techniques, so as novice operators gain experience they can “graduate” from section to region to area nets. Every message is placed into the same format. The operation is disciplined but not unduly complex.

The NTS uses a variety of modes of Amateur Radio communication to transmit your message. Of special interest is the Brass Pounders. These are folks, that, with a bit of nostalgia, use Morse code and (brass) telegraph keys to transmit the message.

Try it for yourself…

You, the private citizen might want to try this NTS system out by contacting a local amateur radio operator and having them send a “Radiogram”.

What says “Happy Birthday” to Aunt Mary better than a Radiogram sent through the Amateur Radio National Traffic System and perhaps handled by a Brass Pounder? That, for sure, beats an e-Card from Hallmark or even a talking birthday card sent through the postal mail.

Read (lots) more

You can find out what the NTS is all about in this presentation.

https://frrl.files.wordpress.com/2012/07/nts_101.pdf

Below are lots of references where you can read more about the NTS

http://www.hudson.arrl.org/eny/NTS/index.html

http://www.arrl.org/chapter-one-national-traffic-system

http://www.arrl.org/nts-manual/

http://www.w7arc.com/nts/

http://www.arrl.org/files/file/Public%20Service/radiogram2.pdf

http://www.dmoz.org/Recreation/Radio/Amateur/Organizations/National_Traffic_System/

http://www.arrl.org/nts

What is the government doing to ensure survivability of communications – Presidential Executive Order

http://www.federalnewsradio.com/519/2933910/Obama-assigns-new-responsibilities-for-keeping-government-connected-in-case-of-emergency

Written by frrl

July 11, 2012 at 5:40 pm

Zen and the Art of… Harley-Davidson

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In Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Pirsig explores the meaning and concept of quality, a term he deems to be undefinable. Pirsig’s thesis is that to truly experience quality one must both embrace and apply it as best fits the requirements of the situation. According to Pirsig, such an approach would avoid a great deal of frustration and dissatisfaction common to modern life.

In the book, the Narrator describes the “Romantic” approach to life of his friend, John Sutherland, who chooses not to learn how to maintain his expensive new motorcycle. John simply hopes for the best with his bike, and when problems do occur he often becomes frustrated, and is forced to rely on professional mechanics to repair it. In contrast, the “classical” Narrator has an older motorcycle which he is usually able to diagnose and repair himself through the use of rational problem solving skills.

In an example of the classical approach, Pirsig explains to the reader that one must pay continual attention: when the Narrator and his friends came into Miles City, Montana [3] he notices that the “engine idle is loping a little,” a possible indication that the fuel/air mixture is too rich. The next day he is thinking of this as he is going through his ritual to adjust the valves on his cycle’s engine. During the adjustment, he notes that both spark plugs are black, confirming a rich mixture. He recognizes that the feel-good-higher-altitude-mountain-air is causing the engine to run rich. New jets are purchased, and installed, and with the valves adjusted, the engine runs well again.

With this, the book details two types of personalities: those who are interested mostly in gestalts (romantic viewpoints, such as Zen, focused on being “In the moment”, and not on rational analysis), and those who seek to know the details, understand the inner workings, and master the mechanics (classic viewpoints with application of rational analysis, vis-a-vis motorcycle maintenance) and so on.

Read the rest of the book summary here – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zen_and_the_Art_of_Motorcycle_Maintenance

Philosophy and Motorcycles

It’s been a long since I read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (ZATAMM) by Pirsig. I read it in high school. I still have the dog-eared copy on my bookshelf.  A few days ago I took a look at it.  I saw it as a very thick book.  These days, I don’t think I could read such a book again. The book has a sort of patina reserved for old books that can only be read in a certain time and age. That time was gone.

So why my interest in Zen and the Art… ? I recently bought a Harley Davidson motorcycle. In some way, I relived some of the philosophical discussion that takes place in the book. The mindset of the Harley-Davidson dealer was not ready for someone like me.

The Dinner Bell & The Race Track

At the particular dealership where I bought the bike I was asked to ring this giant bell – a sales dinner bell, no doubt. This is a signal that the customer (now a buyer)is going to run the “race track”. The “race track” is really a path through the dealership. First the department that sells Harley branded apparel. Then the parts and accessories department. And finally, the service department. The managers of each of the departments introduce themselves and show you what they have to offer.

When I got to the parts and accessories department they brought my bike over and set it over a checker-boarded area. The manager of the department asked me what accessories I wanted to buy. I told him, “none”. That I, “just wanted to ride it”.

When I got to the service department they told me about the work they can do including dyno tuning. They also told me that many Harley owners do regular maintenance on their bikes themselves. And, if I did the work myself that I should keep maintenance records during the warranty period. I told the service guy, “I want you to do all the service, I just want to ride it”

Both the accessories guy and the service guy were somewhat surprised by my answer, “I just want to ride it”. To not want to bling-out the bike with chrome and accessories and to not want to wrench the bike is “un-Harley-like’. “I just want to ride it.”

Zen and the Art…

One of the first debates or “differences in perspectives” in ZATAMM is the debate between John Sutherland and Pirsig. Whereas Pirsig wants to know every technical and rational detail of how his motorcycle works John doesn’t care one bit. John Sutherland “just wants to ride it.”. Pirsig finds John’s lack of interest in the technical detail of how his motorcycle works –  frustrating.

If I had to run the clock back in my life I’d say I was more like Pirsig than like John. I wanted to know how every detail of how things work. This got translated to the study of physics and mathematics in college. Of course I was on track wanting to find, “The Theory of Everything” – a reductionist approach to understanding everything – or so I thought.

But a physicist’s understanding of a Theory of Everything excludes most things.

Missing everything that matters

A while ago I was discussing a movie with a group of people. This movie, set in the middle ages, had a scene with a row of people sitting on a bench. One of the individuals in the discussion asked if we noticed the guy (actor) at the end of the bench, which was in closeup. That person was wearing contact lenses.

Of course such a question about the contact lens took everyone by surprise.  If you saw the contact lens did you miss everything that was meaningful?  If you notice the technical details are you missing the movie?  Blinded by technology?

In college I took a few courses in literary criticism. I soon found myself in a literary criticism peer group. I was advised by one of the people in this group that I should NOT study literary criticism. I asked why. They told me that I enjoyed literature too much and I should not know “how it (literature) works”.

Where is the value of the thing?

I wonder.  By knowing how something works, do you destroy something valuable?  Did the person who saw the contact lens in the actor’s eye in the movie set in the middle ages miss the point of the movie? If you know how literature works then are you distracted from the experience of reading the text? Somehow, I think that if you are reading Dante’s Inferno or Milton’s Paradise Lost and you are thinking of the mechanics of the verses then you are missing the whole of the meaning of the work. If you see a contact lens in an actors eye, then you didn’t see the movie.

There is a technology part and a meaning part to everything.  It’s interesting how some people are able to focus on only one aspect and nearly completely ignore the other aspect.  But I think we need to assign a higher value to the meaning part than the technical part.  The technical part has no value unless its enabling some value other than technology as an end in itself.

Radio as (only) technical curiosity 

In the 1920’s David Sarnoff saw the value of the discovery of RF as far more than just an interesting phenomenon of physics.  If people could see past the fascination of how these waves were transmitted and received one could see the real value, potential, and opportunity (emphasis mine)

“When the novelty of radio will have worn off and the public [is] no longer interested in the means by which it is able to receive, but rather in the substance and quality of the material received, I think that the task of reasonably meeting the public’s expectation and desires will be greater than any so far tackled by any newspaper, theater, opera, or other public information or entertainment agency…

Let us organize a separate and distinct company, to be known as Public Service Broadcasting Company, or National Broadcasting Company (NBC), or American Radio Broadcasting Company, or some similar name…

David Sarnoff 1922

The Take

Watch how people differentiate themselves. Some watch a movie and see actors with contact lenses; others see a story. Some read great literature while others want to pick it apart to see how it works. Radio was a great discovery of the 20’th century. While some were building circuits to understand the physics of it David Sarnoff was building RCA to bring ou the value of this technology to the masses.

Why is it that most people either focus on the technology part of something or on the Zen of it?

How many people do you know that can balance multiple perspectives? In the business world, in most companies, I see this dichotomy between the business people and the technical people. The business people think that the technology people are geeks (don’t see value past technology as an end in itself) while the technical people think their job would be better if there were no business people and no customers.

In ZATAMM, the character of Pirsig learns that the rational, analytical, and technical aspect of Motorcycles is not all of it.  Pirsig’s knowledge of the “Theory of Everything” applied to understanding how to maintain his motorcycle needs to be balanced with what John Sutherland experiences when riding his bike.

What Pirsig discovers in Zen and the Art is that both perspectives are “correct”.

Pirsig shows that rationality’s pursuit of “Pure Truths” derives from the first Greek philosophers who were establishing the concept of truth, against the opposing force of “The Good”. He argues that although rational thought may find truth (or The Truth) it may not be valid for all experiences. Therefore, what is needed is an approach to viewing life that is more varied and inclusive and has a wider range of application. He makes a case that originally the Greeks did not distinguish between “Quality” and “Truth” – they were one and the same – and that the divorce was, in fact, artificial (though needed at the time) and is now a source of much frustration and unhappiness in the world, particularly overall dissatisfaction with modern life.

Pirsig aims towards a perception of the world that embraces both sides, the rational and the romantic. This means encompassing “irrational” sources of wisdom and understanding as well as science, reason and technology. In particular, this must include bursts of creativity and intuition that seemingly come from nowhere and are not (in his view) rationally explicable. Pirsig seeks to demonstrate that rationality and Zen-like “being in the moment” can harmoniously coexist. He suggests such a combination of rationality and romanticism can potentially bring a higher quality of life.

What all real motorcycle people know is that the joy and experience of riding a motorcycle is “not rationally explicable”

Pirsig seems to say that both the Zen (“in the moment”) experience of riding and the technical attention is compatible and simultaneous.  I don’t think so.  If you are truly in the moment of riding a motorcycle you won’t hear the slop of the primary chain or the one in a million cylinder miss… just as you won’t see the lens in the eye of actor in a great movie or worry about the technical details of the construction of great literature or music.

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Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Written by frrl

July 5, 2012 at 9:33 pm

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