I’m a headhunter and a writer. I don’t know a darned thing about bikes, but when I look at the V-twin engine on a Victory motorcycle in the window of a local bike shop, I see perfection. Smack me, but it makes me feel like I just closed a deal and placed the right candidate in the right job and the match is forever. Of course, one has nothing to do with the other. Right? Wrong. The image of perfection is the image of quality. You know it when you see it. I see it in that V.

Zen & The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is a book I’ve avoided all my life. Lucky for me, because I never would have understood it — until I read it last year, when I was ready for it. Now it’s on my shelf, beside Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead. A recent reviewer wrote that he’s avoided writing about the book all his life because he didn’t want to botch the write-up. He botched it, because it’s not a book you can talk about for long before you sound like you’re doing acid.

The book is about quality. It’s about the feeling you experience when your hands move with knowledge of the thing you are working on — for example, the motorcycle the book’s author works on throughout the story of his travels. Here comes the acid part: You know quality because the thing you recognize as having quality feels like it’s a part of you and everything else.

Yadda-yadda-yadda. I don’t want to botch this. The first half of the book is a bit slow, so don’t give up. Then it gets more difficult to understand and you must read parts twice or thrice. You keep going because Robert Pirsig gets you a little worried that everything you know is wrong. (He blows up Aristotle and thousands of years of Western philosophy, but that’s another story…) Then he shows you that what you feel about things is right.

Ever have that experience about some work you did? If you know what I mean, then you want to feel that again. You crave that feeling of everything being right in your world. That desire is what makes you worry about the next job you’re going to take. Read the book. Your standards will likely change. You won’t worry any less; but you’ll expect more. Your standards will rise. And that’s quality. It can and should be the main factor you consider when you evaluate any job.

1 Comment
  1. I love your last paragraph because those of us who are lucky enough to do work we love and get paid for it know the feeling you mention.

    I do a lot of consulting to people on issues of time management (which is, of course, essentially life management since you can’t separate your life from your time). One of the things I tell them is to notice how your body is feeling about your work. And to use this knowledge when you’re contemplating a new job, too. When you think about the job, do you feel energy and excitement beginning to bubble up, or do you feel all that energy draining out your toes? If the latter, I don’t care how much money they promise you because you’re going to pay for it with your life. On the other hand, energy builds on energy, and if you’re feeling that frisson that means you’re going to be challenged but not overwhelmed, you’re probably in the right place.

    Worked for me….