In his book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, author Robert Pirsig describes his 17-day motorcycle ride from Minnesota to California, revealing the many philosophical discussions he had along the way.
In some ways the book is an homage to Eugen Herrigel’s Zen in the Art of Archery, which is widely credited with introducing the theory of Zen to the Western world in the 1940s.
Through his writing Pirsig examines, and becomes obsessed with, the topic of quality. His theory is that the term quality must be applied on a situation-by-situation basis; that what qualifies as quality at one time may not be quality later. He also insists that a true quality moment (when you find Zen) occurs only at that unique instance when the truly rational and the truly romantic meet.
In the manufacturing world, most of the major market leaders also are obsessed with quality. It usually is what has made them market leaders in the first place.
But as anyone that has ever walked through a busy shop can attest, it can be pretty hard to find Zen when deadlines loom and machines go down.
That’s why Kevin Meyer wrote The Simple Leader, a book that explains how the search for perfection at work has roots in both Zen and another concept more familiar to manufacturers: lean.
In the book Meyer describes how he used lean concepts in his role as president of a medical device company. But it was later in life, during a family medical emergency, when he learned about Zen and realized there were common themes that could be used to improve both personal and professional leadership skills.
Meyer tries to help business leaders become more organized (a principle of lean) and more balanced (a principle of Zen). Combining the two means becoming more aware of what is happening around you.
In the book Meyer asks, “Why are you doing what you’re doing? What is the purpose? Who is the customer? What is the expected result? Does it create value? Is there a better way of doing it?”
Performing a gemba walk is one way to apply a lean principle in the shop to identify problems, but stopping along the way and uncluttering your mind to find a solution is pure Zen.
Joe Thompson has been covering the Canadian manufacturing sector for more than a decade. He is responsible for the day-to-day editorial direction of the magazine, providing a uniquely Canadian look at the world of metal manufacturing.
A graduate of the Sheridan College journalism program, he has published articles worldwide in a variety of industries, including manufacturing, pharmaceutical, medical, and entertainment.