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Silicon Valley and the Zen way

ValleyZen blog explores intersection of Zen and technology.

We're all familiar with the notion that Silicon Valley's roots lie in the Bay Area's adventure-seeking gold rush history and the mind-expanding experiments and hippie culture of the 60s.

Drue Kataoka of ValleyZen.com wields her family's 400-year-old samurai sword in a video. ValleyZen.com

But you may have not realized that there are strong links between the tech start-up mindset and the Buddhist philosophy of Zen.

A blog called ValleyZen is exploring that connection.

"We believe there is a strong link between Zen and technology. The Silicon Valley spirit is incredibly Zen," says Drue Kataoka, a master Sumi-e Japanese brush painting artist who launched the blog in January with Bill Fenwick, a founder of the Silicon Valley lawfirm Fenwick & West.

What does being Zen really mean? According to the blog, it is exemplified by simplicity and elimination of clutter, naturalness, asymmetry, and tranquility. Other aspects include living in the present moment, acting spontaneously, being free of self-consciousness and fear, having discipline, being loyal, and moving fast, according to Kataoka.

I asked Kataoka recently how Zen she thinks Google is. She laughed before answering, in a roundabout way, that the most counterculture tech firms have been Netscape, Apple, and Google.

One of Kataoka's Zen-inspired Sumi-e paintings. Drue Kataoka

What about Microsoft, and Yahoo? On those firms the blog has more to say: "While Yahoo was never Zen, Microsoft arguably had some Zen aspects in its early technologies (many through copying Apple): intuitive graphical interface, common relatively simple menus in its Office applications. Its recent foray in search, however, has been far from Zen. AdCenter, MSN's Search Advertising product, has the least intuitive and slowest user interface of all major search players as well as the most cluttered and inefficient API...The question is, will the Yahoo acquisition somehow trigger MicroHoo to find its Zen? Or not?"

The blog features video interviews with Fred Turner, the Stanford professor who wrote From Counterculture to Cyberculture and VC Samurai, and Tim Draper, among others. So far, nothing on Oracle's Larry Ellison, a notable Japanophile.