Aesop Gets It Right, Again

Posted by jlubans on December 12, 2017

Caption: Leo Cullum from the New Yorker

An early December essay by the BBCs Amanda Ruggeri, spells out why resting, doing nothing, and reflecting – in other words, doing less – can result in greater productivity, creativity and better health.
Her essay, “The compelling case for working a lot less
cites numerous people who have studied and commented on human creativity and the seeming conundrum of working less to produce more.
She includes the latest thinking from brain science and what it is finding out about how we imagine and create; and about “the part of the brain that activates when you’re doing ‘nothing’, known as the default-mode network (DMN), (which) plays a crucial role in memory consolidation and envisioning the future”
Ruggeri cites Henry Miller who waxes downright Aesopic when he advises aspiring writers to: “Stop at the appointed time. Keep human!”
Two thousand years ago, Aesop understood the importance of rest. And, his fable in 177 words, pretty much says the same (less any reference to DMN!) as Ruggeri’s 2500 word essay.
Here is my blog entry about the unstrung bow from October of 2013. BTW, It also can be found on p.172 in the book “Fables for Leaders” along with 99 other fables relevant to the workplace.


“When a certain man of Athens saw Aesop playing with marbles amidst a crowd of boys, he stood there and laughed at Aesop as if Aesop were crazy.
As soon as he realized what was going on, Aesop -- who was an old man far more inclined to laugh at others than to be laughed at himself -- took an unstrung bow and placed it in the middle of the road.
'Okay, you know-it-all,' he said, 'explain the meaning of what I just did.'
All the people gathered round. The man wracked his brains for a long time but he could not manage to answer Aesop's question.
Eventually he gave up.
Having won this battle of wits, Aesop then explained, 'If you keep your bow tightly strung at all times, it will quickly break, but if you let it rest, it will be ready to use whenever you need it.'
In the same way the mind must be given some amusement from time to time, so that you will find yourself able to think more clearly afterwards.”
Even the winged Cupid has to give his bow a rest from time to time. And so it is at work. If, without cease, we keep our nose to the grindstone, our ear to the ground, our eye on the ball, and our shoulder to the wheel, we’ll wind up as humorless and clichéd as the last four phrases!
Worse, we’ll be less productive than if we take breaks. I was surprised with the varied response from staff when I organized a “Day in the Woods”.
This was a playful team building experience and far away from e-mail, voice-mail, offices, desks, and computers. Some took part with enthusiasm; others were reluctant but showed up with an open mind, willing to try out something new. Others, unlike Elvis, never left the building!
They saw a day off playing group games as a waste of time – or so they said. (I think the group’s being a mix of supervisors and staff deterred some. From my work with corporate groups, I have seen bosses very reluctant to mix and mingle and a few appeared fearful of not doing well, of not having THE answer to a problem solving activity.)
A few even took it upon themselves to disparage others’ going, and, if a subordinate wanted to go, they’d not grant permission.
Invariably, the results of those days away were new and strengthened relationships, new perspectives, and, oddly enough, fresh ideas on how to get work done.
Many of my “direct reports” chose to take part; overall about 20% of the total staff volunteered.
I will probably lead a weeklong off-site retreat next summer in Latvia; my draft agenda already includes several of the timeless events from those Days in the Woods. And from what I know of the hard-working Latvians, like Aesop, they already know the value of play.

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

Thirteen days to Christmas! Avoid the parcel post push, order this instant! gift copies of "Fables for Leaders" by John Lubans
The behemoth Amazon is linked here. Amazon has the book in stock and ready to ship, as does BookBaby.
And, just around the corner from where I live in Salem, Oregon, at Powell's Books in Portland, OR.

© Copyright John Lubans 2017
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