Stop and Sharpen Your Axe

Learning how to multiply strength in the business world.

April 16, 2021
Let’s apply Lincoln’s famous quote: “If I only had an hour to chop down a tree, I would spend the first 45 minutes sharpening my axe.”

If you’re a fan of Abraham Lincoln, you’ve probably heard his famous quote:

“If I only had an hour to chop down a tree, I would spend the first 45 minutes sharpening my axe.” 

To help understand the meaning behind this quote, start by placing yourself into that literal setting: imagine yourself and many others working at similar goals, each of you responsible for chopping down a tree with an axe. 

As you see everyone around you start swinging away at their tree, your first instinct is probably to also start swinging, if just to keep up. You notice the speed and sweat they are putting in, and it makes you feel like you should do the same if you want to have a chance at being the first to chop down your tree. 

Although this sense of competition feels effective in the moment, your strength is diminishing by the minute, and there is nothing actually setting your chances of winning apart from everyone else. 

Chop Different 

Now take a moment and, instead of playing the same game as the rest of the choppers, stop and think about how you can get ahead. 

If you take the time to pause and sharpen your axe, you’ll find that while your competitors are almost out of energy and have dull tools, you will have multiplied the strength of your axe. You’re now able to chop down your tree within a fraction of the time. 

Not only are you using a better tool, you have exerted less energy than your competitors and have sustained the motivation to get the job done — and done effectively.

This example of sharpening the axe makes a lot of sense for lumberjacks, but how can this be applied to the rest of us? 

Bringing it Back 

The pressure to produce results for your business can create a sense of urgency to start working at something that makes you feel like you are moving your business forward. The unfortunate truth is, without taking time to build an effective strategy on the front end, all of that hard work and time could easily prove to be a tiring waste with disappointing outcomes. 

What might a better up-front business strategy — “sharpening the axe” — look like? 

For us at Only Co., it means starting at “Phase 0,” working with our clients’ stakeholders to cultivate the best plan that will drive results for their business. We believe that slow is smooth, and smooth is fast. This requires valuable research, discovery, auditing, and defogging of assumptions and issues within your business in order to address root issues, instead of applying band-aids to symptoms of pain. As they say, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” 

We know you’re eager to get stuff done. You can certainly go to any marketing agency and produce some pretty things. But are these tactics…

  1. ...addressing your core problems? 
  2. ...contributing to your business goals?
  3. ...communicating accurately why you are different?
  4. ...returning valuable data about your customers?
  5. ...increasing your revenue?

We’re all for leveling up your marketing tactics, but without a meaningful and customized plan that accomplishes the list above, these efforts will most likely be as useful as frantically swinging with a blunt axe. 

Only Co.’s up-front Diagnostic Process helps us to identify what’s working for you, what’s missing from your plan, where you’re headed, and how we can help you create the most value. Our team then builds specific and actionable recommendations that align with your primary needs — so you’re able to deploy your budget on tactics that drive results. Only then do we start chopping away at that tree.

How will you choose to expend your strength? While your competitors are busy dulling their edges, get ahead and sharpen your axe.

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