mó dāo bú wù kǎn chái gōng
Grinding an axe will not hold up [delay] the work of cutting firewood. Spending time preparing your axe may quicken the speed of your work.
Story goes that two men were chopping wood. One started ahead. The second man just continued grinding his axe. The first man, very conceited, was anxious to find out who fell more trees ? It was the second man.
Photo of Ainu carving by master wood carver Takeki Fujito in Tsuruga Wings Lake Akan, Hokkaido, Japan
Half way through chopping, the first man’s axe had become dull and blunt and it took him more effort and time to fall one tree.
工 欲 善 其 事，必 先 利其器
gōng yù shàn qí shì，bì xiān lì qí qì
What then for someone who manages the state?
Jū shì bāng yě
Shì qí dàfū zhī xián zhě, yǒu qí shì zhī rénzhě
Source: Baidu with words in italics added by me
(The Baidu translation gives the impression that Confucius advised one should network with the rich, influential and powerful. But Confuscius emphasised seeking out the benevolent ones because his disciple Zigong’s question was on benevolence (仁).
When asked by his disciple how one should prepare to manage his country benevolently, Confucius noted in the “Analects” that just as a workman has to prepare his tools, an official preparing to govern a country benevolently must prepare his tools too.
Confucius advised that (humans being social creatures), one should seek out and befriend good and respectable talent in all levels of society.
How does a knowledge worker polish his tools?
Today, Confucius would have advised us, knowledge worker, what is the tool of your trade? Have you been spending time polishing it before cutting your tree.
Translation and reinterpretation by me.