I was going through my notes from a seminar with Steve Schiffman called “Always be closing.” One thing Steve mentioned was “You must sharpen your axe!” which lead me to search for the story that goes with that phrase. I found two different ones.
John, a woodcutter, worked for a Company for five years but never got a raise. The Company hired Bill and within a year he got a promotion. This caused resentment in John and he went to his Boss to talk about it. The Boss said, “You are still cutting the same number of trees you were cutting five years ago. We are a result-oriented company and would be happy to give you a raise if your productivity goes up.”
John went back started hitting harder and putting in longer hours but he still wasn’t able to cut more trees. He went back to his Boss and told him his dilemma. The Boss asked John to go and talk to Bill. “Maybe there is something Bill knows that you and I don’t.”
John asked Bill how he managed to cut more trees. Bill answered, “After every tree I cut, I take a break for two minutes and ‘sharpen my axe’. When was the last time you sharpened your axe?” This question hit like a bullet and John got his answer.
Source: Sharpen your axe
Once upon a time a very strong woodcutter asked for a job with a timber merchant, and he got it. The salary was really good and so were the work conditions. For that reason, the woodcutter was determined to do his best. His boss gave him an axe and showed him the area where he was supposed to work.
The first day, the woodcutter brought 18 trees. “Congratulations,” the boss said. “Go on that way!”
Very motivated by the boss’ words, the woodcutter tried harder the next day, but could bring 15 trees only.
The third day he tried even harder, but could bring 10 trees only. Day after day he was bringing less and less trees.
“I must be losing my strength”, the woodcutter thought. He went to the boss and apologized, saying that he could not understand what was going on.
“When was the last time you sharpened your axe?” the boss asked.
“Sharpen? I had no time to sharpen my axe. I have been very busy trying to cut trees…”
Source: The Axe Story
Moral of the story: Working hard is not enough. You must continuously sharpen your axe of knowledge, skill and expertise.