Sloppy quotations lead to bad advice.
“Give me six hours to chop down a tree, and I’ll spend the first four sharpening the axe.”
Despite numerous citations, there’s no evidence Abraham Lincoln actually said that.
And the original quote referenced minutes, not hours.
That’s a significant and relevant difference! The change in the quotation over time has led to some really bad advice and poor application.
First, once an axe is sharp, spending any more time sharpening is a waste of time.
Second, chopping dulls the axe, so more sharpening is needed later.
But the “six hours” quotation, coupled with the presumed authority of Abraham Lincoln has become an unhelpful business axiom.
Leaders make excessive preparations before taking massive action, and they leave little room to measure, pivot, and rest along the way.
The result is delay, inflexibility, and burnout.
For development teams, it often looks like:
1️⃣ Release planning
2️⃣ Sprint after sprint after sprint with only a day or two in between for retrospectives and sprint planning
And then starting all over again.
But as valuable and productive as a sprint can be; it is also exhausting. Rest is important.
So is sharpening the axe.
As leaders, how do you give your teams a good cadence of both surging/sprinting and resting/sharpening?