Thursday, November 13, 2008

Pirsig on Quality

When a senior in college, I read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig (the book is available on PDF here) and it made quite an impression on me. I really felt I could relate to the lead character's philosophical journey.

I wrote out one quote from the book and kept it on my bulletin board for years and years. Here is a snippet from immediately before the quote I like so much:
The result [of skill devoid of Quality] is rather typical of modern technology, an overall dullness of appearance so depressing that it must be overlaid with a veneer of "style" to make it acceptable. And that, to anyone who is sensitive to romantic Quality, just makes it all the worse. Now it’s not just depressingly dull, it’s also phony.
I immediately picture McMansions when I think about this veneer of style. Cookie-cutter style with a long list of features ("veneer"). Pirsig continues...
It’s the style that gets you; technological ugliness syruped over with romantic phoniness in an effort to produce beauty and profit by people who, though stylish, don’t know where to start because no one has ever told them there’s such a thing as Quality in this world and it’s real, not style.
This isn't an indictment of style. It's an indictment of superficial, shiny style that is really just a thin cover over a lack of Quality. Finally, here is the big payoff. This is the quote that has stuck with me for years:
Quality isn’t something you lay on top of subjects and objects like tinsel on a Christmas tree. Real Quality must be the source of the subjects and objects, the cone from which the tree must start.
Amen, brother. It's gotta have "good bones." This way of thinking applies to many, many areas: companies, employees, software, homes, marriages, etc. Quality has to be there from the beginning.

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