Business is like splitting firewood

Sometimes running a business is just like splitting firewood.

It's all about hitting it in the right place, but to find the right place you sometimes have to hit in the wrong place dozens of times first.

The more times you hit it in the wrong place the wiser you become about hitting it in the right place.

No-one ever hit's it in the right place the first time they swing an axe. Unless you are relying on luck. Don't rely on luck.

At the beginning of the year, we cut down an old tree at home that was growing too close to our house. It was a lovely old tree and was a shame to cut it down. To make the most of it, I've slowly been splitting it into firewood. We don't actually have a wood burner at home but I've been selling it to friends and neighbours. I'm an active relaxer so I just take a 20-minute break from work a couple of times a day and swing the axe.

My first ever business was splitting and selling firewood. I was about 16 or 17 and my Dad owned a contracting business and was often working on other peoples farms. If he noticed fallen trees he'd offer to truck them away for free. I'd then take over and saw them into rings then split them into firewood. One day someone turned up and offered to buy all my split firewood along with all the trees. It was near the end of summer and I was getting tired of spending my school holidays splitting wood along with driving tractors for Dad, so I took the deal essentially selling my entire business and freeing up some time. I was rich! but only for a few months!

Here's Hugo impersinating a pile of firewood.

The Problem

Some of the tree rings split easy, some of them are tricky but it's still quite obvious where the right place to hit it is. Then there are the ones that feel absolutely impossible to split. You hit them over and over again in the place that looks like the best place but the splitting axe just bounces off or worse get's stuck.

It's easy to give up on these "impossible" ones and just put them in the too hard pile. Here's how big my "too hard" pile got. The trouble with a too hard pile is that it get's in the way of progress. In this instance we need to finish rebuilding our fence but I've put this pile in the way.


But actually, sometimes you just need to put them in the pile temporarily and come back to it with a fresh perspective. Take a good look at the problem again, examine the grain with a new set of eyes and use all your wood splitting experience and persevere. Sometimes it's simply about hitting it harder, sometimes it's about hitting it more accurately. Sometimes you need both. The only thing you always need is persistence.

Then, something funny happens, you hear the tell-tale, satisfying sound of a slight split. Then you gain confidence, once you see you are on the right track you can focus all your energy into that area of the ring.

Finally, you split off the first piece.

Once you've done that the whole nature of the problem has changed. You've found but also created new weaknesses in the wood. When you hit it again in a place that didn't budge the first 10 times it splits. Now you just go back to those impossible parts and hit them again. Soon the entire ring is split. It's like magic.

That's the power of persistence. The willingness to fail over and over again knowing that sooner or later you will succeed. And by the way, succeeding doesn't necessarily mean winning. Sometimes it's just learning where your limits are. Learning is succeeding. Some rings can't be split.

Which reminds me of a great quote from all-around awesome human and triathlon world champion Siri Lindley.

"I never lose. Either I win or I learn"

So in business, just like in life and in splitting firewood the key to success is the willingness to apply consistent effort over and over again. Sometimes you need to set things aside and come back to them. But with persistence, you always either win or you learn.

Happy splitting

Here's a big pile of success!

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