Sharpen Your Axe

jeff-hSome of you may remember my old mentor that worked at Haggard & Stocking, Joe Hankins. I worked under Joe for several years and learned quite a bit about tooling, abrasives, gages and quite frankly, about life. I can assure you that it was no accident that I learned so much from Joe. He was a wealth of knowledge and I learned from just working with him and following him around, but that wasn’t where I learned the most. He would DAILY give me an assignment of some type of learning exercise. He would sit me down with a blueprint and make me read and interpret it for what we needed to tool up. He would hand me a catalog the night before and have me read it from cover to cover and then have a quiz for me the next day. He would even make me memorize feed and speed formulas and quiz me from flash cards he carried. I was a young aggressive sales representative that wanted to sell, sell, sell. I didn’t want to take the time to sit in a factory cafeteria and take a quiz. I didn’t want to sit in a break room and go through flash cards. I constantly complained because I didn’t want to take the time, I wanted to use my time in selling and making money for the company and for my family. Every time I would complain he would say (expletives deleted for those that knew Joe), “You need to sharpen your axe!”.

The sales guys have all heard me tell the story that I had heard multiple times from Joe when I complained about taking the time to study or learn. I really am not sure of the source, all I know is I heard it countless times from Joe. He would tell me the story of the old wood cutter verses the young wood cutter. An overview of the story is that a young aggressive wood cutter who was big and strong and full of energy felt he was the best in the land and could out work anyone around. He felt as if he worked hard and fast and he could cut more wood than anyone. He, in fact, was so confident he challenged the old experienced wood cutter to a challenge. The old cutter very simply smiled and accepted the challenge.  Each cutter had a large stack of wood in front of them to cut with a time limit of 8 hours to complete the task or to see who could cut the most. At the start of the competition they both attacked their individual stack of wood with vigor. After 50 minutes the old man sat down under a tree for a break. The young cutter went on about his task of swinging his axe with all his might. He laughed to himself about the old man needing a break. This scenario repeated itself at the top of every hour with the old man sitting to take a quick break. After the 8 hours the competition was over and in looking at the stacks it was clear to see that the old cutter had amassed a larger stack of cut wood. The young cutter was flabbergasted and  was sure the old man had cheated in some manner. When he confronted the old man on how he won, the old man simply smiled and said every time he took his break he took  time to sharpen his axe, with that he was more effective with his task.

Joe was teaching me to take the time to sharpen my “Axe” of my knowledge of my job. The more I knew about our tooling, our customers, the processes etc. I was more effective in my job and worth more to my customers. It may feel like it is a waste of time in our work to take time for continuing education like reading business books, taking webinars attending seminars etc, but it is truly worthwhile. How many of us in our personal life will read how to books to improve our skills in our hobbies and past times? Take the time to read a catalog, ask a vendor to tell you more about their product. ASK THE SIMPLE QUESTIONS of Why or How something works in our industry. The more knowledgeable you are with what we do the more effective and valuable we become to our customers.

We have all heard the phrase “Knowledge is Power” that is commonly attributed to Sir Francis Bacon. He expressed this in some of his work by saying, “ipsa scientia potestas est” (‘knowledge itself is power’.) I challenge you to flex your power and Learn Something to be more effective in your role in the company.

Jeff Haggard