Zen and the Art of Business Maintenance

As I write this, I’m sitting in the lobby of the Park Plaza hotel in Boston. Two Bloody Marys deep, I’ve just finished writing copy for High Touch Courses’ Summer Technology Camp website. I’m taking a moment for a little people watching.

Before I continue, I should tell you that I hate the term “people watching” almost as much as I hate the terms “growth hacking” and “content marketing.” They’re made up terms, hackneyed and cliched, designed to add sheen and zest to something people have doing for many years prior to these terms’ existence.


(Just add “zipadeedoodah,” and you too will have mastered the lingo of a boutique advertising agency.)


In this case, I’m simply making observations about the people around me. “People watching”: I feel as though I should be keeping a journal with colorful sketches.

In any case, I’m reminded of Robert M. Pirsig’s great novel “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.” In the novel, Pirsig establishes his own philosophical belief system around the framework of a motorcycle road trip with his son and their family friends.

Pirsig posits that there are two types of people in this world:

  • The Romantics, who are mostly interested in gestalts. They believe that things are the sum of their parts and should operate as such. For example, “This motorcycle runs because it is a motorcycle. It does motorcycle things. There are people that specialize in motorcycle repair. I enjoy the motorcycle as a motocycle.”
  • The Classicists, who are interested in the parts of the sum. For example, “This motorcycle exists and operates because of the parts that create it. Each part works in harmony to make this motorcycle run. I understand this system and can fix it myself. I enjoy the motorcycle because of what makes it a motorcycle.”

No one type is better than the other, and nothing is ever black and white. However, Persig believed most people fall predominantly into one of the two camps.

I don’t necessarily subscribe religiously to Persig’s philosophy any more than I’m a student of Objectivism because I’ve read Ayn Rand, but Persig makes an interesting observation. I see a lot of people who display traits of either Romanticism or Classicism, and you probably do, too.

  • The waiter who sat me in the lounge here promptly resumed goofing off with co-workers. This is just a job. Task completed, there’s no more job to do, no other parts to consider.
  • The bartender who mixed my Bloody Mary made it from a mix. The Bloody Mary exists as a Bloody Mary. If there’s a problem with the drink, someone else has to fix it.
  • The traveler whose reservations got mixed up has the option to either blame the front desk and demand they fix it (this hotel is not doing what a hotel does and needs to be fixed), or call the travel agency and fix it themselves (this hotel is part of a greater whole and I care to understand the parts).

In business, it often helps to look at ourselves in the mirror, size ourselves up, and assess what kind of person we really are. Do we want to be the type of person who gets into business and hopes it operates as it should, or do we want to be the type who looks at the nuts and bolts so we can fix it when it breaks on the side of the road?

Business owners sometimes make the mistake of thinking it’s all about the numbers and contracts, but it’s not. It’s also assessing ourselves, growing, and improving. We may not like to admit it sometimes, but our businesses are an extension of ourselves. If we can’t figure ourselves out, it’s a going to take a mighty fine (and expensive) mechanic to fix the problems we cannot.

Matthew Chabe

About Matthew Chabe

Matt Chabe is a principal at The Galleon Agency, an integrated marketing agency based in Bangor, Maine that helps businesses around the nation maximize growth. He is the chair of Bangor SCORE, a seven-year veteran of the U.S. Navy, and drives way too fast for his own good. Matt graduated from University of Maine with a BA in marketing and a minor in psychology.