Sharpening Your Axe

The story goes that in the fall of the year, a couple of men were chopping wood to heat their homes for the winter. They both worked all day. But one man took a break every few hours and the other man worked without a break except for lunch. At the end of the day the woodchopper who had taken his breaks had chopped more wood than the man who did not take breaks. So the man asked his chopping partner how he could chop more wood when he had worked hard all day long and he had taken a break every few hours. The man’s reply was, “Well, while you were continuing to chop wood, I was sharpening my axe.”  We all need to take time to sharpen our skills and we can see that this habit pays dividends.

Both Charles Miner and Ben Franklin told versions of the story so you know the story has been around for over two centuries. One of the reasons this story works is that the narrative has several applications you could make concerning preparation, keeping fit, cutting edge material, and many others.

You want the audience to know that the story did not really happen. I did that here by purposely keeping the details vague and identifying the narrative with “This story…” If the story were historical, you would certainly answer the “W” questions in detail. For a hypothetical story, you don’t want to make up the answers to the “W” questions because that would imply it was true. Other ways to introduce the hypothetical story might be, “Picture with me this scene…” or “Imagine you were driving….”

The hypothetical story is the weakest of the three types because the event did not really happen. If anyone disagrees with the application you are making, then a person can say, “Well, because that did not really happen, the example does not make your point.”  So the hypothetical story is best to help an audience understand, not to persuade.