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.



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