Posts Tagged ‘Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance’

Forrest Gumption

March 16, 2013 4 comments

A gumption trap is an event or mindset that can cause a person to lose enthusiasm and become discouraged from starting or continuing a project. – Wikipedia

Some people credit Robert Pirsig with coining the term “gumption trap“. In his inimitable book, “Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance“, he wrote a brilliant section classifying, listing, and explaining a gaggle of gumption traps. Two in particular stood out to BD00: anxiety and boredom.


You’re so sure you’ll do everything wrong you’re afraid to do anything at all. Often this, rather than “laziness,” is the real reason you find it hard to get started. This gumption trap of anxiety, which results from overmotivation, can lead to all kinds of errors of excessive fussiness. You fix things that don’t need fixing, and chase after imaginary ailments. You jump to wild conclusions and build all kinds of errors into the machine software because of your own nervousness. These errors, when made, tend to confirm your original underestimation of yourself. This leads to more errors, which lead to more underestimation, in a self-stoking cycle. The best way to break this cycle, I think, is to work out your anxieties on paper. Read every book and magazine you can on the subject. Your anxiety makes this easy and the more you read the more you calm down. You should remember that it’s peace of mind you’re after and not just a fixed machine high quality software. When beginning a repair job you can list everything you’re going to do on little slips of paper which you then organize into proper sequence. You discover that you organize and then reorganize the sequence again and again as more and more ideas come to you. The time spent this way usually more than pays for itself in time saved on the machine project and prevents you from doing fidgety things that create problems later on.


Boredom is the opposite of anxiety and commonly goes with ego problems. Boredom means you’re off the Quality track, you’re not seeing things freshly, you’ve lost your “beginner’s mind” and your motorcycle project is in great danger. Boredom means your gumption supply is low and must be replenished before anything else is done.

BD00 gets ensnared in the anxiety-gumption-trap whenever he finds himself marooned inside his head ruminating over a concern. On the other hand, BD00 rarely gets caught up in the boredom-gumption-trap. Not because he’s conquered his big, fat, ego, but because his curiosity and longing for understanding never wanes. He can’t even remember the last time he was bored. And to BD00, that’s a good thing.

How about you, dear reader? Which of these diametrically opposed gumption traps are you most susceptible to?


Motorcycle And Software Maintenance

February 17, 2013 1 comment

Robert Pirsig’sZen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance” is one of my fave books of all time. I have a soft cover copy that I bought in the nineties. Because of its infinite depth and immersive pull, I’ve read it at least three times over the years. Thus, when sent me a recommendation for the kindle version of it for $2.99, I jumped at the chance to e-read it and capture some personally meaningful notes from it.

(Published in 1974) the book sold 5 million copies worldwide. It was originally rejected by 121 publishers, more than any other bestselling book, according to the Guinness Book of Records. – Wikipedia

In a nutshell, ZATAOMM is about a college professor (Pirsig himself) who ends up going insane over his obsession with trying to objectively define what the metaphysical concept of “quality” means.

Quality…you know what it is, yet you don’t know what it is. But that’s self-contradictory. But some things are better than others, that is, they have more quality. But when you try to say what the quality is, apart from the things that have it, it all goes poof! There’s nothing to talk about. But if you can’t say what Quality is, how do you know what it is, or how do you know that it even exists? If no one knows what it is, then for all practical purposes it doesn’t exist at all.

During my fourth read of ZATAOMM, I started noticing how much of the wisdom Mr. Pirsig proffers up applies to the “art” of software development/maintenance:

When you want to hurry something, that means you no longer care about it and want to get on to other things.

This comes up all the time in mechanical software work. A hang-up. You just sit and stare and think, and search randomly for new information, and go away and come back again, and after a while the unseen factors start to emerge.

Sometimes just the act of writing down the problems straightens out your head as to what they really are.

The craftsman isn’t ever following a single line of instruction. He’s making decisions as he goes along. For that reason he’ll be absorbed and attentive to what he’s doing even though he doesn’t deliberately contrive this. He isn’t following any set of written instructions because the nature of the material at hand determines his thoughts and motions, which simultaneously change the nature of the material at hand.

Any effort that has self-glorification as its final endpoint is bound to end in disaster.

Stuck. No answer. Honked. Kaput. It’s a miserable experience emotionally. You’re losing time. You’re incompetent. You don’t know what you’re doing. You should be ashamed of yourself.

This gumption trap of anxiety, which results from overmotivation, can lead to all kinds of errors of excessive fussiness. You fix things that don’t need fixing, and chase after imaginary ailments. You jump to wild conclusions and build all kinds of errors into the machine because of your own nervousness.

Impatience is close to boredom but always results from one cause: an underestimation of the amount of time the job will take. You never really know what will come up and very few jobs get done as quickly as planned. Impatience is the first reaction against a setback and can soon turn to anger if you’re not careful.

Impatience, stuckness, underestimation, anxiety, and carelessness. These are just a subset of the feelings and behaviors that pervade dysfunctionally soulless organizations whose sole focus is on “following prescribed process and meeting schedule“.

QPS Kings

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