MRO Magazine

Words of wisdom that just ain’t so

By Richard G. Ensman, Jr.   

Human Resources Machinery and Equipment Maintenance Operations

You’ve heard that the early bird gets the first worm and that a penny saved is a penny earned ... and a lot more folk wisdom besides. Yes, those old truths are worth pondering, but before you take them as literal guides to your daily work...

You’ve heard that the early bird gets the first worm and that a penny saved is a penny earned … and a lot more folk wisdom besides. Yes, those old truths are worth pondering, but before you take them as literal guides to your daily work life, consider the other side of those axioms.

The early bird gets the first worm. True, but research shows that if you deprive yourself of sleep, your productivity will decline.

• A penny saved is a penny earned. But don’t save compulsively. Sometimes it’s better to spend those pennies on education, technology or labour-saving improvements.

We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. Perhaps you’re better off getting a map, and doing some serious planning.


• Patience is a virtue. True, but if we took patience to the extreme, would we enjoy technological advancements today?

• Silence is golden. So are brilliant, rambunctious ideas and provocative conversation.

• Many hands make light work. Very true. But don’t use this principle to shirk personal responsibility or accountability.

Watch out for number one. Better look out for the people around you, especially if you’re a leader. They’re the folks who will make you successful.

When the going gets tough, the tough get going. Exactly where do the tough go? What’s the best place for them during difficult times?

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Better, perhaps, to sell the lemons at a discount and move on.

Play the cards you’re dealt with. Just don’t forget that you can quit the game anytime, and get new cards.

• Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise. What does that old proverb say about the role of working women today?

• Never put off to tomorrow what you can do today. Follow this rule literally and you can end up pursuing low-priority or even meaningless tasks in your quest to finish everything today.

• It’s six of one and a half-dozen of the other. If you can’t see the difference between two options, perhaps more research is required.

Birds of a feather flock together. They do, but what does this axiom suggest about diversity? Any successful group or business needs people of many backgrounds flocking together.

• Don’t count your chickens before they hatch. If you follow this wisdom literally, you’ll never make a profit projection.

• Take it or leave it. Better, perhaps, to sit and remain silent. Perhaps an opening for negotiation will present itself.

• It’s water over the dam. The big question: can you stop the flow of additional water?

• Practice makes perfect. But can you justify excessive practice? Do you really need to be perfect?

• Take it like a man. Exactly how should a man take it? What about a woman?

• If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. Better to develop a strategic partnership of some sort.

• If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. This is a recipe for disaster in an age of total quality management and continuous improvement.

• What you see is what you get. Hardly. You have to look below the surface, especially in this complex, high-tech age.

• What does that have to do with the price of tea in China? Watch out for misdirection and confusion.

• You have to spend money to make money. Spendthrifts and poor planners can use this old proverb to rationalize all sorts of spending.

• The grass is always greener on the other side. The big question: can you fertilizer the grass on your side, and make it greener?

• Rules are made to be broken. True wisdom lies in analyzing the reasons rules need to be broken. 

• Haste makes waste. These days, haste often makes the deal.

• Money is the root of all evil. It’s also the root of most good.

• You can be penny-wise but pound-foolish. Maybe, but it all depends on the situation. Ask yourself: what benefit do you gain by counting the pennies?

• Beggars can’t be choosers. What does this bit of folk wisdom say about the sales and negotiating skills of people who ask for things?

• You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. True, but if you’ve got that much vinegar around, what else can you do with it?

• Necessity is the mother of invention. Creativity, however, may be the father.

• Make hay while the sun shines. It’s OK to make hay during the daytime, but remember: early mornings and late evenings are the most productive time for many folks.

• Time will tell. Why wait? Maybe you can find the answer to your question now.

• An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Don’t worry about preventing every misfortune; you’ll never have time for bold initiatives.

• Time flies when you’re having fun. But don’t forget to set priorities for other things you want — or need — to do.

Opportunity doesn’t knock twice. Opportunity lies everywhere. You simply have to recognize it — or better yet, make your own opportunities.

• Is the glass half-empty or half-full? Does it matter? The question is this: do you want to drink it?

Wise old proverbs are everywhere, but lest you accept them indiscriminately, remember the insightful words of an old sage: “The wise make proverbs … but fools repeat them.” MRO

Richard G. Ensman, Jr., is a frequent contributor to Machinery & Equipment MRO.


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