The Book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig was in the news recently because of new book (Zen and Now, by Mark Richardson) that revisited it. I think there is also a documentary in the works.
Seeing these headlines made me remember the book, a great read that I first came across many years ago. Part road trip and part spiritual journey, the semi fictional book recounts the story of a father and young son as they traverse the country on a motorcycle. It is also part mind trip: an intriguing parallel plot brings the author from lucidity, to philosophical genius, to madness and back again.
In a number of asides throughout, Pirsig associates Zen philosophy with the otherwise mundane world of motorcycle maintenance (after all, he has to keep the machine fine tuned and running during the trip) to teach important lessons about life.
The book must have made an impression because I still think about it some thirty years later. And I also think about the important lessons it can teach PR teams about the mastering the inner game of PR: the importance of quality, and of having the right mindset, tools and attitude.
Please see the excerpts below, and my notes on the relevance for PR:
In one passage, Pirsig explains how a repair shop did a hack job on his bike:
Why did they butcher it so? These were not people running away from technology… these were the technologists themselves… They sat down to do a job and performed it like chimpanzees. Nothing personal in it… And I tried to think back into the shop, that nightmare place… to try to remember the cause.
The radio was a clue. You can't really think hard about what you are doing and listen to the radio at the same time. Maybe they didn't see their job as having anything to do with hard thought, just wrench twiddling… Their speed was another clue. They were really slopping things around in a hurry and not looking where they slopped them. More money that way.
But the biggest clue seemed to be their expressions. They were hard to explain. Good natured, friendly, easygoing – and uninvolved. They were like spectators… There was no identification with the job. Whenever their 8 hours were in you knew they would cut it off and not have another thought about their work…. They were involved in it but not in such a way as to care.
Are your PR teams engaged? Do they really care about their work, pride themselves in their craft, want to learn and improve and proudly carry the badge of the profession?
In another passage, the author describes the importance of enthusiasm:
I lke the word "gumption" because it is so homely and so forlorn and so out of style… I also like it because it describes exactly what happens to someone who connects with Quality. He gets filled with gumption. The Greeks called it enthousiasmos… which means literally "filled with Theos" or God, or Quality… A person filled with gumption doesn't sit around dissipating and stewing about things. He's at the front of the train of his own awareness, watching to see what's up the track and meeting it when it comes.
If you're going to repair a motorcycle, an adequate supply of gumption is the first and most important tool. If you haven't got that, you might as gather up all the other tools and put them away, because they won't do you any good.
The same can be said for PR.
Are you and your teams filled with "gumption"? Are they pumped up and ready to enthusiastically take on the many challenges of the work?
Even the teams that are pumped up and engaged sometimes run into challenges. Pirsig called them "gumption traps."
Here by far the most frustrating gumption trap is inadequate tools. Nothing's quite so demoralizing…
Do you have the best possible PR tools at hand? Are your media lists well researched and thorough? Are the client's key messages up-to-date? Do you have the information tools you need?
He describes other gumption traps, and also gumption-filling: the art of getting re-energized when you are unmotivated or run into challenges.
Again, a great read, I highly recommend it.