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A Parable About Preparation

Author: Ian Bailey

Published date: 2017/11

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Once upon a time, there was a young man who was hungry to earn some money. He was prepared to work hard for it, so wanted a job where the amount of money he earnt was directly impacted by how much effort he put in. A commission scheme.

After searching around for a while, he managed to land himself a job as an apprentice lumberjack, where he’d get paid for every tree he chopped down – perfect!

On his first day, the head lumberjack gave him an axe and sent him off to the forest. He knew if he worked hard he could earn well, so he was out there for a full day and when he came back to the yard he had 20 trees to show for his efforts – the head lumberjack was suitably impressed at the effort, paid him for each tree and they went off to the pub to celebrate. This was a great job!

On the second day, the apprentice came in early, picked up his axe and headed off to the forest again. He worked as hard as had the previous day but when he got back to the yard to collect his money, he realised he’d only managed to chop down 18 trees. This confused him a little, but he thought it must have just been one of those things and he’d put it right again the next day.

The next day came and he was in earlier than before to make up his numbers, he took his axe to the forest and chopped harder than he’d done before and stayed later than he’d done before. When he got back to the yard, totally exhausted, he was almost bought to tears when the trees were counted up and realised he’d only managed to chop 15 trees down this time. How could this be? He’d worked harder than before and longer than before, yet he was producing less result. It didn’t make sense.

Too exhausted to go to the pub, he headed home. He needed his rest if he was going to put this right. The next morning while it was still dark the apprentice got up, headed to the yard, grabbed his axe and off he went. He’d always wanted a job where the effort he put in reflected how much money he earnt, and he was prepared to give it everything he’d got. He was in the forest all day, giving it everything he had. When he crawled back to the yard at the end of the day, the head lumberjack counted up his trees. “8,9,10. That’s ten tree’s today”

“Ten? Ten?!! How is that even possible? I’m working as hard as I can and longer and longer each day, but the number of trees is getting less each day. What’s going on??”

Feeling a little sorry for his young apprentice, the head lumberjack turned to him and asked “when was the last time you sharpened your axe?”

“What?” said the apprentice “I haven’t had time to sharpen my axe, I’ve been too busy trying to chop trees down!”


“We all have a lot to do, and the obvious thing to think is that by charging at something full steam that you’ll be able to achieve more, but without taking the time to prepare and plan what you’re doing, the chances are your extra effort is going to be a lot less effective.”

– Ian Bailey

 “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I’ll spend the first four hours sharpening the axe.”

– Abraham Lincoln