Sunday, July 20, 2014

The genesis of VMM

For those of you have been following the Facebook page on VMM, know that VMM is inspired by ZMM (Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (Pirsig, Robert 1974). If you have read ZMM, you know that VMM is very different. This blog post makes those differences explicit and explains the genesis of VMM.

The first difference is that ZMM is based on western philosophy, and VMM is based on eastern philosophy. This fundamentally guarantees that while they may sound similar, they will each have a unique thought process.

The second difference is that they both seek to answer different questions. ZMM explores the meaning and concept of quality. VMM seeks to explore the concept of "happiness" and "suffering" in the workplace. 

It is best to keep the differences to these two points for now. I have to explain VMM in more detail before any further comparison is meaningful, relevant, interesting, and useful.

Why motorcycles as a launching pad to communicate my ideas? It does not have to be motorcycles. Here are four classics for your consideration.


Each one explores a very specific task and provides practical and easy to follow explanation of how to enjoy the task (playing tennis, playing golf, working, playing music), improve your performance, and reach your potential. The goal of both Prisig and Galloway is to apply philosophy to problems that vex us. I have personally attained a "zen like state" when playing tennis and learned more about myself and life lessons just by hitting a fuzzy yellow ball. Alas, those moments were fleeting and not consistent enough for me to move beyond the "advanced beginner" status. You may not have played tennis, or golf, but the underlying principles of excelling at tennis and golf can be applied to any endeavor (as proven by The Inner Game of Work and The Inner Game of Music). What you need is an open mind and an ability to learn from metaphors, comparisons, and abstractions.

If you don't like sports similes, here are some other classics that are along the same lines. The following are my personal favorites. Warning: these take a lot of work to read and understand.


These books explore the relationship between physics, mathematics, art, and philosophy. They are not for the faint of heart. Even if you don't read them I recommend you have them on your bookshelf to intimidate your visitors.

VMM explores concepts that are complementary to all the above classics. It uses the lens of Vipassana, which for now, we will define as "insight into the true nature of reality" (Rinpoche and Gunaratana).

Siddhartha Gautama (hereinafter referred to as Sid) a.k.a. Gautama the Buddha, cracked the code on "suffering" and explained how to overcome suffering. The teaching is elegant and the techniques effective. However, the practice in its pure form requires enormous discipline, which few humans have been able to show consistently.

VMM will explore how the teachings of Sid can be applied in the modern workplace. Storytelling has been used in almost every culture and religion to communicate values, teach right from wrong, provide guidance to solve problems, and build character. If done properly, motorcycles can provide to be a fun way to explain, engage, and transition to a hypothesis followed by explanations and evidence. The use of motorcycles to tell stories and communicate ideas is simply one of convenience. Besides, motorcycles are an area of interest for me, and that settles the matter!

While I believe everything that needs to be said about attaining happiness and eliminating suffering has already been said, what is needed is a simpler and more practical way to practice the teaching and bring lasting change in each one of us, so we can benefit from the wisdom already available. Consider this proposition: 
  • We do not need more or new wisdom, what we need is more insight, a step by step progressive approach, and the discipline to adopt habits that will bring us happiness.
Why should you care? For one thing, every human seeks to increase happiness and lower suffering in the workplace. If you do not wish to increase your happiness or lower your suffering at work, you need professional help. Please stop reading and get that help right away.

A second reason is that you probably spend most of your time at work. I define "work" broadly as almost any endeavor where you seek to meet goals of some kind, for which you earn an income. This excludes students, but includes trainees and interns who get a stipend. Take a look at how you spend your time. Any time spent not sleeping, eating, relaxing, and pursuing a hobby is probably time spent on "work." This is at least one-third of the day for the average person. Some workaholics take a break only to sleep, and work the remaining hours.

A third reason you should care is because you probably entered the workforce with skills to perform tasks. You were most likely not given the skills to be happy. Even with the plethora of self help content available today, there is no systematic way to prepare our youth who enter the workforce. Just thinking about the multitudes who go thru the motions at work, miserable and frustrated, is enough to depress even the most optimistic person. Each miserable person is interacting with, and sharing their misery with co-workers and customers, multiplying the misery in the world. 

To remove suffering in the workplace, we have to provide those who are entering the workforce with skills and somehow help those who have been overcome by cynicism after many years in the workforce.

For simplicity, the following assumptions will be made.
  • Suffering and happiness in the workplace impacts every single person, even those who are not employed. 
  • Organizations and nations are incurring costs and failing to meet their vision and charter because workers are unhappy. 
The business case for reducing suffering and increasing happiness is clear. Yes, proof and citations etc. are needed, but I doubt if anyone will disagree with the above assumptions.

Many barriers and hurdles are waiting to be overcome. Suffering and happiness are controversial topics. Therefore, we must start with clear definitions to understand the scope and propositions. There is an utter lack of appreciation for diversity, meaning, ideas that don't align with the reader's thinking pattern is likely to be rejected without due process. Therefore words have to be chosen carefully, not to "sell" ideas or to challenge, but to ensure that the ideas are given a fair hearing. We are surrounded by poor role models and being asked to change our behavior with few people to show us the correct behavior to reduce suffering and increase happiness is actually asking a lot. 

But reducing suffering and increasing happiness in the workplace is a worthwhile effort. If we simply make the effort to improve our lot, even if we do not succeed in our lifetime, the next generation will have some momentum to carry the torch to greater heights.

Stay tuned.