“Ah-Ha” Moment… from a Stonecutter
This is my site Written by Lowell Nerenberg

I heard a story the other day that stopped me cold. In a good way. It helped me understand the power of purpose like never before. Tell me if you agree…

Stonecutter Once upon a time [I’ll bet you didn’t expect that line], way back in the Middle Ages, a traveler was walking down a rural road one warm, spring afternoon. As he came around a bend in the road he found a group of men, about ten of them, some of whom were cutting stones with hammers and chisels. And they looked bored. They were all quiet, doing their job, each one minding his own business, chipping away at the stones. As the traveler drew closer he could see them sweating a bit. Half of them were just sitting off to the side, not doing anything. The traveler walked up to one of the men and asked, “What are you men doing?” The man shot back, with a bit of anger and impatience in his voice. “We’re cutting stones. What’d you think we were doing!” The traveler thanked the man and continued on his way.

A short time later, as the traveler moved down the road, he came upon another group of men with hammers and chisels, also cutting stones. But this group seemed different. They were swinging like they enjoyed it, almost like they were dancing. They swung more rapidly than the first group, and the whites of their teeth told the traveler they were smiling. As he got closer, he heard laughter and saw them kidding with one another – and noticed them sweating a lot, too. They seemed to be having a really good time of it all. Only one of the men in this group was sitting and resting. The traveler went over and asked him, “What are you men doing?” The stonecutter looked him square in the eyes and said with pride, “We, my good man, are building a cathedral!”

…And they lived happily ever after.

Is your team just cutting stones … or building a cathedral?

2 Responses »

  1. Lowell,

    Great story. When employees are just “doing work,” they can appear to be uninspired – probably because they, well, are not inspired. Most of the great business stories have a passionate purpose at their core that you hear from every person in the company. In that sense, though the people performing a repetitive task might appear to be doing the same task as an equivalent employee at another company, the employee at the company with the passionate purpose sees that task as a means to an end and will do that job with energy, pride, and purpose. As an employer, you will see low turnover, better results, and employees who go the extra mile for the company.

    Thanks for the continued inspiration.


  2. Yes, Ian. You get the point. When people have a reason that’s bigger than themselves, they put more of themselves into it.