Pirsig, zen & all that jazz…. (metaphysics of quality)


I like it when the universe throws me a pattern… you know, like when the same thing or general topic suddenly seems to appear more frequently and yet randomly than ever before.  Lately, I’ve been reminded of Pirsig’s Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, which just happens to be a personal favorite.  It’s come up a lot lately…

For this particular situation, it’s Pirsig’s perspective on quality that interests me and I’m reminded of it primarily because of a recent LinkedIn ASQ discussion asking how we define quality.   In the past, I’ve noted the inability to define quality as a primary misconception in the industry and I’ve reached out to others on the Pro QC team to inquiring how they perceive it as well.  No one puts it quite as eloquently and romantic as Pirsig though…

“Quality,” or “value,” as described by Pirsig, cannot be defined because it empirically precedes any intellectual construction of it, namely due to the fact that quality (as Pirsig explicitly defines it) exists always as a perceptual experience before it is ever thought of descriptively or academically. Quality is the “knife-edge” of experience, found only in the present, known or at least potentially accessible to us all. (Plato’s Phaedrus, 258d). Equating it with the Tao, Pirsig postulates that Quality is the fundamental force in the universe stimulating everything from atoms to animals to evolve and incorporate ever greater levels of Quality. According to the MOQ, everything (including ideas, and matter) is a product and a result of Quality.”

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Rob  •  May 2, 2012 @3:55 pm

    According to Pirsig, at the cutting edge of experience is Quality. This is the mass of sensory perceptions that we take in. When we become stuck with a problem, we may be forced to re-evaluate our entire perception as our experience shifts due to a different level of understanding:

    “Stuckness shouldn’t be avoided. It’s the psychic predecessor of all real understanding.”

    Pirsig talks about a screw which has become sheared so that you cannot remove it when you are trying to fix your bike.

    “Normally screws are so cheap and small and simple you think of them as unimportant. But now, as your Quality awareness becomes stronger, you realise that the screw actually has the same value as the whole motorcycle.”

    In other words, break out of normal ways of thought and force us to come up with new ideas. We need to rethink things because the world is in a continual state of flux – Quality. We need to look deeper than merely on the surface of things and think about what they are really worth.

    How do you attain these new experiences?

    Go to the workplace and see for yourself to thoroughly understand the situation (genchi genbutsu), while reflecting on what you have learned (hansei) and practicing continuous improvement (kaizen). Attentive receptivity is to be cultivated. This practice is uncomfortable at first, but with practice and with successful experiences of what this attentive receptivity brings, it becomes an accepted and welcome modality leading to useful results.