1. Monday, January 22nd, 2018
    a cycle called yourself

    Fifty years ago, in the summer of 1968, Robert Pirsig went on a motorcycle trip with his son Chris that took them from Minnesota to California.  Six years later, Pirsig’s account of that trip, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (ZMM), was published, after being rejected more than a hundred times by other publishers.

    The author’s note at the beginning of the book reads:  “What follows is based on actual experience.  Although much has been changed for rhetorical purposes, it must be regarded in its essence as fact.  However, it should in no way be associated with that great body of factual information relating to orthodox Zen Buddhist practice.  It’s not very factual on motorcycles, either.”

    It’s not even really a book about Zen — there are only fifteen uses of that word, nearly half of them in one paragraph — the subtitle, “An Inquiry Into Values,” better reflects its purpose.

    Motorcycles and their maintenance ... continues

  2. Sunday, January 14th, 2018
    analysis itself

    In an earlier dispatchthe research puzzle | It was called “searching for quality.” in this series of postings inspired by Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (ZMM), I wrote about his quest for Quality (with a capital Q) being the main focus of the book.  But at one point he wrote, “The subject for analysis, the patient on the table, was no longer Quality, but analysis itself.”

    You might say that this blog, soon to be ten years old, is also concerned with analysis itself.  Whether dealing with investment decision making or industry practice or the workings of organizations, its focus has been about the “how” (rather than the “what,” which is the normal fare for most financial industry commentary).  I found that ZMM gave me much to ponder in that regard.

    In this penultimate posting of the series, I’d like to emphasize a few of the ideas from the book that relate to the analytical process.

    Some of them I ... continues

  3. Tuesday, January 9th, 2018
    getting unstuck

    In Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (ZMM), Robert Pirsig wrote about “getting unstuck” from the “gumption traps” and other impediments that prevent us from moving forward.  However the “stuckness” comes about, we need to free ourselves from it.

    Pirsig on that stuckness:  “This is the zero moment of consciousness.  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.  You should take the machine to a real mechanic who knows how to figure these things out.”

    You’ve probably been there.  I certainly have.  Not with a motorcycle that needs fixing, but with other problems.  It’s a miserable feeling.

    I’ll return to the theme of personal change and growth in the last posting of this series on ZMM.  For now, let’s look a bit more ... continues

  4. Thursday, January 4th, 2018
    gumption traps

    “A person filled with gumption doesn’t sit around dissipating and stewing about things.  He’s at the front of the train of his own awareness, watching to see what’s up the tracks and meeting it when it comes.  That’s gumption.”

    It’s an odd word, gumption, “so homely and so forlorn and so out of style,” according to Robert Persig in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” (ZMM).  More than forty years after he wrote those words, that’s still the case.

    Pirsig’s book is a lot of different things, as reflected in the range of topics in this ongoing series of postings about it.  On one level, it’s a personal quest, or rather two quests.  The narrator (really Pirsig) recounts his personal journey, but also the one of his previous self, whose relentless searching into the folds of philosophy devolved into mental illness and led to shock therapy treatments.

    In contrast to some of the more theoretical ... continues

  5. Tuesday, January 2nd, 2018
    searching for quality

    One of the Merriam-Webster definitions of “philosophy” includes these subparts:  “a) pursuit of wisdom, b) a search for a general understanding of values and reality by chiefly speculative rather than observational means, and c) an analysis of the grounds of and concepts expressing fundamental beliefs.”Merrium-Webster | Here is the online entry in its entirety.

    In Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (ZMM), Robert Pirsig went searching for quality.  Or, more accurately, Quality.  With a capital Q.

    Most appearances of the word in ZMM are capitalized.  Quality is the great philosophical construct that motivated Pirsig to write the book.  Of course, we toss that word around quite a bit in the investment business too.

    Fundamental investors and sell-side analysts are always talking about their judgments of the quality of a firm’s management team.  But, notions of what constitutes quality are hard to pin down, and it’s easy to find different ... continues