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How do you stay the course while changing for the future?

Updated: May 15, 2020

Today, as we write this post, we are in Day 38 of lockdown, and our plans to move to the Netherlands are on hold for now. In the meantime, we have been hard at work preparing BRANDSYSTEM for its planned year-end launch, and more importantly we have been spending valuable time with family.

Every day has been filled with inspiring conversation about the future and what it might hold for all of us.

One day, while deep in conversation about the concepts of business success and progress, Jeanine’s dad says to us: “You should read Robert Pirsig’s book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance – it will explain everything”. Knowing his passion for motorcycles and touring the countryside on the back of a Yamaha, we knew that this book would give us insight into the world as seen through his eyes.

Pirsig published the book in 1974 – a time when technology and freedom were strong opposing forces. This was the time of the hippie and the battle between “The Man” and “Lady Liberty”. One book reviewer writes: “This book speaks directly to the confusions and agonies of existence. In the intimate detailing of a real-life odyssey – personal, philosophical – Robert M. Pirsig has written a touching, painful, and ultimately transcendent book of life.” A book of life told from the point of view of a father and son, touring through America on the back of a CB77 Super Hawk.

As we started reading the book, we must confess, we were a bit confused about the subject matter. Pirsig writes about his day-to-day encounters as they unfold, but his recollection of the events is so matter-of-fact that we, in the beginning, failed to see how this was a philosophy book. However, as the story unfolds, it becomes clear. Pirsig keeps referring to a person by the name of Phaedrus, a forgotten character that, at a time, played a very important role in his life. Chapter by chapter, as the events unfold, Pirsig takes you on a journey of realization that Phaedrus was in fact Pirsig. Phaedrus is a character that Pirsig refers to in third person because the author had undergone electroshock therapy after a personal meltdown, leaving him with a new personality, but still conscious of his previous persona (Phaedrus).

The book is about humanity and how we think in two patterns of thought. Pirsig explains it by using his motorcycle as a reference. You can think about a motorcycle in two ways: The first is what he coins the classical pattern of thought, where you see the motorcycle for what it is – a series of components that act in unison; a system. An example of the classical pattern of thought is a workshop manual that describes the parts and functions of the components in relation to each other, giving you a detailed understanding of how the motorcycle works.

The second pattern of thought is the romantic. This is a very different point of view, a pattern of thought that allows us to describe what the motorcycle enables you to do and feel. It is the purpose of the motorcycle, linked to emotions and feelings that come with the act of riding a motorcycle. The object becomes a representation of an abstract concept such as freedom, and the emotions and feelings that come with it.

The story by Pirsig is the tale of a man who had gone mad as the result of his pursuit of the ultimate truth. He started his academic life as a child genius graduating from high school at the age of fifteen and furthering his education in the field of science. This was Phaedrus, the classical thinker, who eventually dropped out of university as he could not reconcile the fact that science was supposed to be the definitive method to discover the ultimate truth about our reality as we know it, yet the number of hypotheses that could be used to solve a scientific problem seemed to be infinite and at the same time, useless.

Pirsig, dissatisfied with the classical world of science, left his studies to fight for America in Vietnam. He returns with a newfound love, Philosophy. This is a new world to him, a world that he uses to try to resolve the ultimate truth to life and happiness. Yet this world too seems to be full of flaws, as he tries to understand its conclusions by finding all that is wrong with its argument.

“The place to improve the world is first in one’s own heart and head and hands, and then to work outward from there.” – Robert M. Pirsig

This is a story about finding Zen in both the classical and the romantic patterns of thought. The book is about knowing which mode you are in and how to move through life while embracing both. This ability enables you to reach and freely meander through the valley of humanity by traversing the mountains of technology within which it lies.

Pirsig, like many people back in 1974, struggled with the concept of two modes of thought which are simultaneously held in one’s mind. He literally went mad in his pursuit of a unified answer because he kept asking classical questions while in a romantic thought mode, and vice versa – he simply did not have a unified question, a compass, that would lead him to answer.

Today, nothing has changed. We still find ourselves struggling with the idea of constantly but unconsciously shifting between modes of thought while traveling along this path called life. This applies equally to the world of business.

In our previous blog post we represent this shifting that businesses do between the two modes with a diagram of “The Infinite 8-Track”. This diagram represents a commercial model for sustained business success, and importantly ( like Pirsig) if a business keeps shifting between these two modes of thought without a compass, they face the risk of becoming schizophrenic.

The compass can only come from one place – the way you choose to play the game of life and commerce. It is the promise you make to others and the guiding principles you put in place to help you navigate your business toward infinitely delivering on this promise. There is no destination here, there is only the continuous journey to playing an ever better quality infinite game by focussing on the promise you make to others.

So how does this all link back to BRANDSYSTEM? The answer is in the illustration on the front cover of Pirsig’s book: a Lotus flower merging into a wrench. If you overlay our 8-track on top of this illustration you will see that the classical view of the world, the wrench, correlates with the current health view of the business, and the romantic view of the world, the flower, correlates with the future guidance that BRANDSYSTEM offers in order for the business to make the correct decisions around future efforts.

You will never lose your way, even in the darkest of times, as long as you stick to delivering on your promise; the reason people love your business. This is how you will always be remembered; this is how you remain forever relevant.

In conclusion, Pirsig sums it up best in the last paragraph of his book:

“Trials never end, of course. Unhappiness and misfortune are bound to occur as long as people live, but there is a feeling now, that was not here before, and is not just on the surface of things, but penetrates all the way through: We’ve won it. It’s going to get better now. You can sort of tell these things.”

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