Lincoln Didn’t Need Four Hours to Sharpen an Ax

I’m getting really tired of seeing this quote attributed to President Abraham Lincoln:

If I had six hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend the first four hours sharpening the ax.

Young Abe Lincoln was hired out to other farms by his father. He became handy with an ax, splitting logs into rails for fences. I’m pretty sure that he never spent more than a few minutes sharpening his ax, because that’s all it takes for me to sharpen any of my axes. If the bit has a chip in it, you use a mill bastard file (when talking about files, bastard means medium-rough) to smooth the edge; otherwise, a simple whetstone is sufficient. I use a round stone called a puck that I can grip with one hand while I hold the ax head in the other hand. It took me less than five minutes to return an old, battered Estwing hatchet to service after my wife found it at a yard sale, and we still use it when camping at the beach.

So why am I ranting about axes? I’m not—I’m ranting about attribution.

A good idea stands on its own. If there is a well-known expert who has weighed in with a pithy quote that applies to the subject, then inserting it into an expository article is perfectly reasonable; I do it all the time. But first, I research the quote to confirm that it is accurate and was actually said by the person I’m going to attribute it to. To do less not only risks my credibility, it shows disrespect to the reader and calls the otherwise good idea into question.

It is indisputable that preparation is key to efficiency. No one will argue otherwise. Yet, someone—several someones, in fact—introduced their article on that indisputable maxim with that faux quote which Lincoln never said. I can say definitively that he never said it, because The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln is available on line, and nothing like that line comes up in various searches. Moreover, I suspect that Lincoln would find the assertion ludicrous if he heard it.

So when another article popped up in my Feedly list today and I saw that silly quote about sharpening Lincoln’s ax, I closed my browser and I composed this rant. Maybe I should thank him.

Advice to New (and Established) Bloggers

Aside

At this writing, I’ve posted over 420 weekly round-ups of content that I think would be of interest to IT project managers. Without counting, I’d guess about 9,000 links. Curating so many lists has naturally led me to some opinions on what makes content interesting. So, here are a few thoughts for my fellow bloggers and other content producers.

  • Visualize your audience and keep them in mind when choosing topics. Write about Why and When and How they can do something useful. Create value for them
  • I generally leave out generic stuff that reads like it was bought from internet copywriters or placed by some marketing team. Be original
  • I also bypass the topics that have already been done to death. Start a new dialog
  • Good search engine optimization technique certainly has value, but it’s no substitute for good content. Don’t let SEO get in the way of what you want to communicate
  • Use facts and diagrams. Provide links to reputable sources. Show your math
  • Don’t make unsupportable claims. Don’t present conventional wisdom as if it were controversial and don’t present the controversial as settled. Maintain your integrity
  • Read your own drafts like a skeptic. Aspire to be valued as a trusted resource
  • Let people know who you are—put your name on your work. If you have a good reason to post anonymously, you can use a pseudonym
  • Post an About page with your biography, a good headshot, and an EMail address that you don’t mind being exposed to the general public
  • Turn on comments on your blog posts. You can meet some interesting people that way
  • I took a lot of the pictures embedded in my posts, including the three on this page. Stock photos are fine, but be willing to expose your personality to your readers. Be willing to be liked
  • You are building your brand. Be mindful of what you say, but express your opinions in a way that will make your readers think. Be interesting
  • It’s good to have well-founded opinions, and most people like reading well-written, opinionated content. Try to say something profound and memorable
  • I regularly include links to opinions I disagree with, and frequently adjoin articles with differing or supplementary opinions in a “point / counter-point” sequence
  • “Omit needless words.” Read The Elements of Style, by Strunk and White
  • Use your spell checker and grammar checker. There are many bloggers whose work would benefit tremendously from proper editing
  • Write clearly—ambiguity is for Christopher Nolan films
  • Sell the good stuff; you don’t need to discredit the alternatives. Take the high road
  • Be insightful. Aspire to be quotable
  • Good expository writing is well-structured. It provides some history, explores the issues and alternatives, convinces, stimulates, and calls to action. Especially if the action is to compose a rebuttal. Aspire to start a debate or even a ruckus

Thanks to all of you who take the time to produce good content—it’s appreciated. And thanks to everyone who reads these round-ups and the other content I post here. I get a lot of enjoyment out of writing this stuff and interacting with the readers. Peace be with you!

Calling All (New) Bloggers!

Aside

Dennis the NewsboyI get inquiries from time to time from people who would like to add a post on their blog or LinkedIn or corporate website to my weekly roundup. I try to encourage new bloggers, and give greater visibility to good content. To that end, let me explain how I curate the weekly reading list:

  • My publishing cycle is to post at 21:00 Sunday evening US Pacific Time (GMT-8), based on whatever appeared during the preceding seven days. Here in Nevada, we observe Daylight SavingsTime.
  • If something is dated a day or two before the start of the week, but I believe it should be seen by my readers, I’ll link to it. Anything older than that is sand through the hourglass.
  • I typically review 120 – 150 articles and blog posts, and link to the best of them, in my admittedly subjective opinion.
  • No one gets two links in the same week. Even if you wrote the two best articles of the week, I’m only going to send the audience toward one of them
  • I limit to 25 links each week, although in some weeks it’s fewer. There’s no point in flooding the market.
  • This year, I’ve started including a link to a video or audio recording, apropos of nothing. If you send me a link to something that appeals to my gypsy cowboy, hippie Newgrass musician, traditional woodworker sensibilities, I’ll credit you.

I maintain a Blogroll on the main page of this site, listing links to sites I think my readers should be aware of. I remove links from the list when they appear to be inactive and add new links when it seems appropriate. Most of the sites on my Blogroll don’t link to this site, but it’s not intended to be a quid pro quo. That said, I believe in the power of community, and those who want to be read should be actively working to grow the community.

I have posted a small number of high-quality guest articles by practitioners, and several of them still get read every month, thanks to the miracle of search engines. Check out this post by Joe Smith to see what I mean. If you have written something you want to share with the project management community but you don’t want to create a website just to publish it, contact me. Note that this invitation is for practitioner authors only – please don’t spam me with product or service placements, “professionally written content,” or stuff your boss / client / colleague wrote.

As always, thanks for reading my stuff, and the stuff I link to.