Back when I decided to attend business school, one of the concerns that crossed my mind was whether my limited attention span could withstand two straight years of all business all the time. I am marketing minded, for sure. But I like to believe there is more to life than balance sheets and creative briefs.
So, I was hugely excited when we were given a business ethics class pre-reading assignment of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Zen, in business school? How awesome is that?
I spent much of that summer working my way through the book. If you haven’t read it, you should. It’s immensely philosophical and talks a great deal about perception and reality. What is true and what is up for debate. It was fascinating. By August I was ready for our deep ethical philosophical discussion.
On the first day of Ethics class, the professor, an ex-lawyer, held the book aloft and said, “Who read this?” About 75% of the class raised their hands. I was running through questions and observations in my head. I wanted to impress, certainly, but I also love a good literary and philosophical debate.
Then the professor said, “Well, the only thing you really need to take away from it is this – quality is in the eye of the beholder.”
And that was that.
No debate, no discussion. So much for the place of Zen in the business classroom.
It’s true that the book discussed the idea of “I know it when I see it” – or “I know it when I feel it.” I believe that was in the context of how tight is tight enough when adjusting the bolts on the motorcycle.
I thought that was a metaphor for something, but maybe it’s just that simple.
Of course, distilling the whole book down into one sentence was a crushing blow – but I have to say – that concept has stuck with me for all these years.
At the end of the day, no matter what specification or metric a product or experience meets, if the person experiencing it doesn’t “feel it”, it isn’t real.
It doesn’t have to be complicated. It just has to be right.
Which I guess is fairly Zen, even if we can’t have much of a debate about it.
Care to debate anyway? Bring it on!