Weekly Thoughts


Sharpen the Axe

Here is something that caught our eye this week:

How long does it take to cut down a tree?

As our long-time readers know, beyond our passion for acquiring and operating small businesses, some of our defining characteristics are that a) we live in Maine and b) we are into Crossfit.  Last week was not only the middle of the Tokyo Olympics, it was also the week of the Crossfit Games, so we wanted to take a moment to highlight a Crossfit-related story.

We are lucky to be members of a great, local Crossfit “box”, the owners of which also operate a clothing brand called Sharpen the Axea brand that speaks to the ethos of a lifestyle of preparation based on the Abraham Lincoln quote “if I had only an hour to chop down a tree, I would spend the first 45 minutes sharpening my axe.”  The story behind this ethos is as follows:

Two lumberjacks were tasked with clearing 20 acres of woods in a day and they decided to split the work evenly—each taking 10 acres to clear by themselves.  The first lumberjack got right to it.  He fired up his chainsaw and started cutting as fast as he could.  The second lumberjack sat down first and sharpened his saw.  After about 20 minutes of sharpening, he got to work himself and began felling trees.  

Two hours into their day the first lumberjack was well ahead.  The second lumberjack stopped cutting and again sharpened his saw.  After another 20 minutes of sharpening, he got up and resumed cutting.  Two more hours later, the first lumberjack was halfway done, well ahead of his partner, and kept on cutting.  The second lumberjack paused once more to sharpen his saw.  

By the 6th hour of work, the first lumberjack was tiring and his productivity diminished rapidly.  His chainsaw was dull, and its engine was overheating.  He had been going flat out all day without food, without water, and without any break, yet he decided to power on nonetheless.  He was determined to persevere and finish cutting his 10 acres first.  The second lumberjack, in contrast, continued to take a break every two hours to sharpen his saw.  He felt fresh, and his chainsaw was cutting beautifully.  

By the end of the day, the first lumberjack had petered out–too tired physically and his chainsaw too beat up to complete his 10 acres.  The second lumberjack was already done, enjoying his final break sharpening his saw before putting it away for the day.  The first lumberjack lamented the hard work and how difficult it would be to do a day like that again.  The second lumberjack said he would be back tomorrow, ready and able to clear the next 10 acres.

In small business, the Sharpen the Axe mentality is critical.  Many small businesses are run in a reactionary manner, with loose (or no) systems and controls.  We believe that to be successful in the long-term, we must spend ample time in preparationdoing unsexy work like systems implementation, data tracking, understanding unit economics, and detail-oriented training.  Only after this work is done should we consider ourselves prepared to step up and swing the axe.

Have a great week,

Your Chenmark Team

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