Friday Fable. Aesop’s “HERACLES AND THE DRIVER*”

Posted by jlubans on October 05, 2012

“An ox-driver was bringing his wagon from town and it fell into a steep ditch. The man should have pitched in and helped, but instead he stood there and did nothing, praying to Heracles, who was the only one of the gods whom he really honoured and revered. The god appeared to the man and said, 'Grab hold of the wheels and goad the oxen: pray to the gods only when you're making some effort on your own behalf; otherwise, your prayers are wasted!'”

Caption: Lodewyk Toeput’s, Landscape with Heracles and the Ox-Driver, 1598. Full screen version here.
Akin to the proverbial “The Lord helps those who help themselves”, I, too, have seen wishful thinking (consider strategic planning) sometimes replace purposeful doing. Often, it seems – given the miniscule results - we do planning exercises since it beats working. Or, we may find ourselves paralyzed by a gargantuan project. I recall having to lead an effort not unlike our Hero’s cleaning out the Augean Stables. Where I worked had huge and historic backlogs; many believed these logjams were too large to deal with without more staff and time, as much as five years. I told the staff there would be no new staff and that we needed to start today to do something, indeed, anything! So, we broke the project down into monthly goals – reasonable and measurable – and then started doing. Not surprisingly, we exceeded the monthly goals and after a year and a half we’d mastered the backlog beast. A cause for celebrating – and we did – leavened a bit with the resentment exhibited by some of the people most responsible for the backlogs. (See Aesop’s “Fox and the Grapes” fable.)

*Source: Aesop's Fables. A new translation by Laura Gibbs. Oxford University Press (World's Classics): Oxford, 2002.

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