Johnson Cook

Atlanta tech investor. Entrepreneur.

Johnson Cook - Atlanta tech investor. Entrepreneur.

That Damn Screw


Zen Motorcycle MaintenanceOn with some more of the ideas from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig.

Let’s say you go to fix your motorcycle. You know there is an internal engine problem. You spend time thinking about all the possible problems, their complexities, the possible parts you are going to need, the possible answers.

You come up with complex decision tree of solutions before you ever lift a finger. Then you are ready to get started. You are ready to dive in head first to the problem and find that nasty issue and fix it, by golly!

So you grab your screwdriver and start to take off the first screw to open up the engine. Hmmm… it’s a little tight. Twist harder.. whoops slipping a little bit. Better push & twist harder, and you keep doing it until, oh NUTS… you’ve stripped the screw!

Now NONE of your fancy solutions to the original problem matter. You can’t get past this one damn screw. Just a little screw. The simplest of all mechanical devices you planned to work with today, and it has stumped you. You are stuck! Stuck, and frustrated!

In ZMM, this is discussed around one of the “gumption traps” called Value Rigidity. Value rigidity means that your values are so rigid that when something challenges them, you become stuck. You don’t know what to do next.

Look at your values in this situation. The most important thing to you is fixing that complicated internal problem. Getting the screw off was not only secondary, but it was insignificant! It’s just a damn screw! It’s not your priority. You didn’t wake up this morning thinking about all the ways to turn a screw.

But guess what. Now that one screw is all that matters to you. None of your values about what was important to fix that motorcycle matter until you can get that screw out. In order to accomplish this job, you must adjust your values and make getting that screw out your FIRST priority. You have to make the screw the project. That’s the job. That’s the challenge. Now slow down, and start thinking about this the same way you thought about the big challenging problem you were originally addressing. Make a decision tree. Start plotting out all the possible ways you can get that screw out.

In starting companies, growing families, building non-profits this is such a relevant problem.  We think about the big complex issues, but so often we forget about the things that can actually shut-down the entire operation. We need to be on the lookout for these things and be ready to make them priority.



Gumption. Our Key to Improving Everything and Accomplishing Anything

Tools. Gumption.Today I will share what I consider the most important idea I have written about to date. Gumption.  It’s the center of my alignment, of my fire. It’s both fuel and the goal for me.   I’ll let Robert Pirsig explain (from ZMM):

“I like the word ‘gumption’ because it’s so homely and so forlorn and so out of style it looks as if it needs a friend and isn’t likely to reject anyone who comes along. It’s an old Scottish word, once used a lot by pioneers, but which, like ‘kin,’ seems to have all but dropped out of use. I like it also because it describes exactly what happens to someone who connects with Quality. He gets filled with gumption.

“The Greeks called it enthousiasmos, the root of ‘enthusiasm,’ which literally means ‘filled with theos,’ or God, or Quality.   See how that fits?

“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 track and meeting it when it comes. That’s gumption.”

When I read this for the first time, I literally had to stand up and pace around with excitement!   I paced around and read it five times over. I was so excited to see these words.  My thought was this:   GUMPTION is what I’m talking about!  If I had read this book before I started this blog, instead of “Venture Energy,” I would have called it “Resurrecting Gumption” or something clever like that.  (I’m considering the use of the word gumption in my book title… and idea that is starting to come to life with a little more haste lately.)

Gumption is what I love about life. It’s what I believe I’ve finally connected with in a meaningful way, and what I want to help others find.    Gumption is what can make a difference in the world. Because it starts with the individual. Nothing will happen in our society, our government, our companies, our associations, without each individual having a tank full of gumption.

The book goes on, and it preaches gets even better. Check this out:

“The gumption-filling process occurs when one is quiet long enough to see and hear and feel the real universe, not just one’s own stale opinions about it. But it’s nothing exotic. That’s why I like the word.”

I love this sentence. Sit still. Slow down to go faster.  Be quiet. BE QUIET! Slow down! Sit STILL! We all need to hear this more and more.  Just be quiet.

Then the practical part kicks in a couple of paragraphs down the page:

“If you’re going to repair a motorcycle…” (or start a company, or write a book, or be a good salesman, or be a runner, or be a good father, or a good husband, or a good preacher, or a good friend, or have any decent legacy on the world at all)… “an adequate supply of gumption is the first and most important tool. If you haven’t got that you might as well gather up all the other tools and put them away, because they won’t do you any good.”

I may be breaking all kinds of copyright laws by continuing, but I cannot help myself. This is too important for everyone to hear.

“Gumption is the psychic gasoline that keeps the whole thing going. If you haven’t got it there’s no way the motorcycle can possibly be fixed. But if you have got it and know how to keep it there’s absolutely no way in this whole world that motorcycle can keep from getting fixed. It’s bound to happen. Therefore the thing that must be monitored at all times and preserved before anything else is gumption.”

This is the message I want the world to know. Moreover, I want the world to know how to find gumption. How to use gumption. Coming soon, I will be sharing more details about my new calling, new company, new vision. But before I shared my WHAT,  it is important that you appreciate the foundation and the WHY (click the links for Simon Sinek’s classic TED talk explanation of WHAT’s and WHY’s.)

That’s all for today. Gumption class dismissed.


Quality. Quality. Quality. – from ZMM – Motorcycle Mondays begins

Quality from ZMM


This is the second Motorcycle Mondays series that I began last week. As the author of the book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, describes his masterpiece, he says it is both a book about people and a book about ideas combined into one book.   I wish to share some of the ideas he discusses and what they mean to me.


(Whoa! if you’ve read the book, you are probably saying “wow, I can’t believe he’d start with that one right out of the gate!” Don’t worry, I will in no way pretend to do this topic justice. But at least an effort to begin sharing the ideas is worth the attempt.)

Can you define quality?  What is it? What does it look like? What does it mean?  Sure, you can tell the difference between something that has quality and something that does not. The chair you are sitting in right now. Hopefully it is a quality chair.   Ok, sure but would everyone think it is a quality chair? What kind of chair do you think that wealthy goofball Donald Trump sits in?

Would he think your chair is a quality chair?

So let’s say you do think it is a quality chair but the Donald does not. So where does quality come from? Does that mean that quality is in the eye of the beholder? Is it completely subjective?   Well, you would probably agree with Donald that his chair has more quality, wouldn’t you?

Then quality is relative…? Some things have more quality than others.  I can go with that. But still, is it really that measurable. What if you’ve never seen a chair before in your life. What if you don’t know what a chair is, much less the difference between a quality chair and a “non-quality” chair. Does the Donald’s chair still have more quality than your chair in that case?

I admit, this is a little bit of “tree falls in the forest” line of questioning. But to follow this rabbit hole of questions on this particular topic is of incredible importance to me. And it probably would be to everyone else too if they took some time to sit still and think about it.

What does quality really mean to you?

Here is how I apply this question without an answer in my life.

What makes a quality person?

We know it when we see it.   Perhaps a quality person is one whose legacy is meaningful. Perhaps a quality person has a quiet mind. Or maybe a quality person is one who is aggressively generous in every way.

To me, a quality person is the kind I want to be around. It’s the kind of person I want to learn from. It’s the kind I want to help because helping them will benefit me. A quality person has balance, has gumption, and is resourceful. A quality person is spiritual in one way or another, and is intentional about their life. They are intentional about the people in their life. They are intentional about their community, their health, their family.  They are even intentional about their appearance, their emotional self-awareness, and their presence in conversations, in groups, in companies, in social settings.

The extent to which I could attempt a comprehensive description of a quality person is endless. And far beyond a blog post appropriate length (which I admit, by the way, have been getting longer and longer, and for that I apologize).

I can’t describe a quality person, but here is what I do know. The world is more pleasant for each of us with more quality people in the world.  My mission and my vision is now that I can help the world create, connect, and grow more quality people.  It all begins with energy, the subject on which I write.

Have a quality Monday!



Motorcycle Mondays – Start Your Engines


Pirsig Honda Motorcycle

Robert Pirsig and his son, Chris

My post on the book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig drove a lot of positive comments online and offline, and I was happy to hear that it spoke to people. The book was borderline life-changing for me, and some of the ideas in it are profound and memorable.  I consider it a “life-accelerating book.” So I’m going to take the Monday posts for a while and write a series called Motorcycle Mondays.     In these posts, I will share some of the important ideas that are expressed in the ZMM book.

To kick off the series, I want to share one of the key sections in the book. I can’t possibly say this any better than the author, so here you go:

“I think that if we are going to reform the world, and make it a better place to live in, the way to do it is not with talk about relationships of a political nature, which are inevitably dualistic, full of subjects and objects and their relationship to one another; or with programs full of things for other people to do. I think that kind of approach starts it at the end and presumes the end is the beginning. Programs of a political nature are important end products of a social quality that can be effective only if the underlying structure of social values is right. The social values are right only if the individual values are right. The place to improve the world is first in one’s own heart and head and hands, and then work outward from there. Other people can talk about how to expand the destiny of mankind. I just want to talk about how to fix a motorcycle. I think that what I have to say has more lasting value.” -from ZMM by Robert Pirsig

To me, this says it all. This is what matters. This what I want my personal and entrepreneurial WHY to be.   Some of the tips on fixing motorcycles you are really going to enjoy.   My initial list of ideas I look forward to sharing is below.

  • Can you Define Quality?
  • Gumptionology
  • Map of Gumption Traps
  • Stuckness. Get Stuck.
  • Commercial Mechanics vs. Doing it Yourself
  • Value Rigidity
  • Ego Gumption Trap
  • Anxiety Gumption Trap
  • Boredom Gumption Trap
  • Impatience
  • Truth Trap of Yes-No Logic
  • Tools
  • You’ve Got to Live Right Too

If you’ve enjoyed the book yourself and have other favorites, please post them in the comments and I’ll be happy to spend as much time as it takes on this book!