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by Nan Russell

As a frequent conference speaker, I take advantage of other presentations when my schedule allows. So, I was delighted recently, with three hours to spare before heading to the airport, to hear best selling author of Built to Last, Jim Collins, address an Atlanta group.

It was the story he told about interviewing management guru, Peter Drucker, that I've thought of several times since. It stayed with me partially because I'm a Drucker fan, since his wisdom and insights helped me during my twenty years in management, and partially because it captured an interesting orientation about success.

The story I remember went something like this. Before he was a successful author, Collins taught at Stanford's Graduate School of Business. It was then that he interviewed Peter Drucker, who at the time was into his eighties with over thirty books to his credit. As the interview was wrapping up, Collins asked the renowned business thinker which of his thirty-some books he was most proud of. "The next one," Drucker quickly responded.

That philosophy separates people who are winning at working from people who aren't. People most proud of "the next one" are contributors, seekers, and thinkers. They're constantly growing, learning, and reinventing themselves. They're coming up with new ideas, insights, and perspectives. These people don't define themselves by what they've already done. They keep moving forward, in their thoughts, actions, and results.

Eighteenth century author, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, put it this way, "He who moves not forward, goes backward." And that's what too many people do in this what-have-you-done-for-me-today world. They point to yesterday's work, yesterday's accomplishments, and yesterday's success. They think that's enough. Yet they should be thinking instead, what am I doing today?

It reminds me of the story of a man cutting a tree in the forest. One day a townsman was traveling from one village to the next. As he made his way through the thick forest, he noticed a man sawing a huge tree. He watched as the man sawed and sawed and sawed. Yet, despite the hard work and energy extended, no tree cutting progress was made.

"It's none of my business," the townsman said to himself, continuing on his way. Returning through the forest two weeks later, he again saw the man hard at work sawing the tree. Still no progress, he noted. Reluctantly, the traveler called out to the man, "Looks like your saw needs sharpening, sir," he said. "No time," the man replied as he kept sawing.

Most people are like that man in the forest. They work hard. They expend energy every day. But, they're not making progress with their dull tools of outdated skills, limited perspectives, and same-old ways. They think they don't have time for self-improvement, development, or learning. They're more proud of what they've accomplished in the past, than excited and focused on what they might be able to contribute in the future.

But, people who are winning at working are saw sharpeners. They don't keep doing what they've been doing without reflection, thought, and consideration. They pause to think strategically, sharpen their skills, and assess their progress. They invest in self-development. They build their knowledge, enhance their understanding, and continue to work at offering the best of who they are to their work.

Like Drucker, people who are winning at working are proudest of what is to come. It's that next project, next idea, or next contribution that builds on their last one. That thinking keeps their saw sharpened and their progress elevated.

(c) 2007 Nan S. Russell. All rights reserved.

Nan Russell may be contacted at
Nan Russell has spent over twenty years in management, most recently with QVC as a Vice President. She has held leadership positions in Human Resource Development, Communication, Marketing and line Management. Nan has a B.A. from Stanford University and M.A. from the University of Michigan. Her book is Hitting Your Stride: Your Work, Your Way, published by Capital Books, January 2008. Nan is an author, consultant and speaker. Visit


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