Woodcutter Without An Axe: New Twist To An Old Tale “Man is a tool-using animal. Without tools he is nothing, with tools he is all.” - Thomas Carlyle

Lori Wagoner

03/10/2016 11:02 AM
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We’ve all read Aesop’s story, Mercury and the Woodcutter, sometimes called The Golden Axe. Remember how the woodcutter sat down and wept near the river bank as his axe – his only means of livelihood – was lost?

That’s how helpless a man is without his tools.

Henri Bergson defined man as "the animal that makes things." Bergson also went on to declare that man’s superiority lies in his power to build and improvise on himself and his things.

For instance, a beaver doesn’t have anything except his teeth and lion his claws, but a man has a storehouse of tools at his disposal, no matter what work or industry he chooses for himself.

But does that mean that he uses these tools all the time?

Are modern marketers a bit like the woodcutters of yore? Or quite the opposite? Here’s my rant – um, take – on this.

Unmindful of Tools We Use Daily

Imagine a woodcutter not aware his axe could cut trees. Wouldn’t he only cut stems and small branches?

We are surrounded (drowned?) by tools today, from our smart phones to the apps in our smart phones, from scissors we use at home to software we use at work – our life is what it is today because someone saw a problem and tried to fix it by making a tool for it. This is the improvisation that Bergson wrote about in 1907 and holds true even today.

But more often than not, we forget that we are using a tool and blame technology for everything that is wrong with our society.

The other day my mom “causally remarked” (in her words) that I was spending too much time on my phone, laptop and Xbox. (Oh, you thought girlie gamers didn’t exist?)

Coming back to my mom, you know what happened next – I kept my mouth shut and started writing.

Tools – both software and hardware – have become an inseparable part of our work and lives, so whether you accept it wholeheartedly or grudgingly, technology is here to stay.

Basically the point I am trying to make here is that all the advanced, cloud-based software, infrastructure and platforms that you see around you are merely tools, only more advanced. Despite that we are quick in our judgment that it’s millennials who are over-dependent on tools.

The new breed of startups use a host of tools to get things done faster and save costs.

Serial entrepreneurs have mastered the art of zeroing in on the right tools and making the best use of them. In fact, it has become a second nature for the resourceful generation of today to use any tool without the limitations of a major learning curve.

For instance, solo entrepreneurs just starting out with ecommerce are now creating their own websites using DIY landing page builders and shopping cart-integrated platforms such as Spaces – not unlike bloggers with WordPress. The argument in favor is that it is simple – if it’s easier on the pocket and you can do it yourself, why pay someone else to do it? If I can create a Facebook, Instagram and Medium account, I can very well build my own website.

A mindful leader with full awareness of her business objectives and the potential the technology at hand can make the best use of any given tool.

Inability to Adapt to Technology

Can we solve world’s problems with more axes or more woodworkers, or more skilled woodworkers who know how to wield the axe?

A lot of people who started work before the internet took over the workplace are resistant to technology, at times claiming they can’t get a handle on all these “fancy gadgets and tools.” Surely, my snap-happy grandpa doesn’t belong to the same group.

Image Source: Funniestmemes.com

According to researchers, human learning spans over a lifetime so if you really want to master those SQL queries, you can. I always remind my grandpa that having an alarm clock means you don’t need to live near a poultry farm in order to wake up to the sound of roosters crowing.

The fear of becoming too dependent on technology makes people resistant to change and causes a lot of chaos in their lives – they are typically seen pushing deadlines with zero work-life balance – but they still continue resisting automation. Marketers and business owners are no exception. This is the most common and deleterious way we deprive ourselves of tools. The sad part is that we are actually quite advanced in our knowledge and aware of innovations in our field but are still resistant to change.

Unappreciative of Technology & Tools

What if the woodworker didn’t care enough about his axe and hadn’t cried at the river bank?

Let’s do a little experiment. Ask a few people around you to name three tools. I asked my colleagues to do the same. I didn’t specify which tools or for what purpose. I asked them to simply say whatever came to their minds first.

70 percent of them named the software tools we use for work while 30 percent listed hardware such as hammers, screwdrivers and mobile phones. Almost all of my experiment’s subjects were appreciative of the value or difference these tools brought to their lives.

If you’re not impressed with the tools that allow you to call your customers or transfer your money or buy that new skirt, or if you aren’t fully appreciative of the difference these tools are making to the workplace, or worse, if you don’t use these tools as much as you can, you can be sure that no fairy is ever going to bless you with silver and golden riches.

From a coffee machine that keeps everyone awake at work to the perennially jammed printer, it is impossible to go on without tools. Walk into a typical web design and ecommerce solutions company like Ocoos and you ’ll find the designers using Photoshop, managers using Excel, social media guys using Buffer, accountants using Wave, the CEO using plain old email (far better than you or I can)... the list goes on. All this technology, software and apps are not going to solve world’s problems, but skilled people who know how to make the best use of these tools, can.

Failure to Improvise on the Use of Technology

What if the woodworker was so obsessed with the axe that he didn’t notice other woodcutters were using chainsaws?

We live in times where technology changes in the blink of an eye. Let’s look at Henri Bergson’s definition again – man’s man’s superiority lies in his power to build and improvise on “himself” and his “things.”

The catchphrase here is to improvise on himself and his things. Case in point would be our transition from floppy discs to USBs, from letters to IMs, from carts to self-driving cars, from flea markets to dash buttons.

Now imagine if we were still commuting on horse-drawn carriages or sending telegrams! Simply put, our inability to improvise on our tools could be as disastrous as not using tools at all.


A report in The Economist titled “The Third Industrial Revolution” makes a strong claim that technology breakthroughs will radically change manufacturing. From software to artificial intelligence, robots to 3D printing, technology is out to change the world and only those who can adapt and adopt it wholeheartedly will survive and evolve.

Donagh Herlihy, Bloomin’ Brands said that no matter what your function, you should be tech savvy. He emphasized on digging into and understanding how you can use technology to improve your business area. And believe me, it can.

A lot of people fail to understand how dynamic the modern workplace has become and resistance to technology can put them to significant disadvantage. Those who seize the vast opportunities that come with adapting can enjoy a lot of benefits in business whereas those who don’t face an insurmountable mountain that becomes difficult to climb with each passing day.

So, never underestimate or under-use your axe. And most importantly, don’t be wary of the silver and golden axes (upcoming technology) unexpectedly bestowed upon you – they will come in handy soon!