“Chop wood, carry water.”

“Before enlightenment; chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment; chop wood, carry water.”

Without resorting to vogue “be(ing) in the moment” and/or the ubiquitous “mindfulness,”[i] the chop wood, carry water approach is typified by the organization eschewing obsessiveness or undue anxiety about future consequences of its decision- making if decisions are grounded in fit, sound, humane approaches that promote or preserve organizational “non-negotiables”[ii]  (foundational goals/’ends’) –  or the vernacular “hills to die on.”[iii]

Of Sasse, Wenner, Zhou Enlai, Martin Luther

Indeed, former Sen. Ben Sasse (now University of Florida president) concludes the “1960s (produce) a hangover for almost every fight we have today”[iv] – a point stated differently by Jann Wenner, co-founder of Rolling Stone magazine, who said, “I don’t think rock ‘n’ roll changed everything. I don’t think rock ‘n’ roll overturned segregation or the war in Vietnam, but we played huge parts in it (both) consciously and unconsciously…”[v] (Wenner’s interview proved personally costly for other sentiments he stated.) [vi]  

Similarly, Chinese premier Zhou Enlai, asked about the impact of the French Revolution, replied, “Too early to say.”  The intent of the premier’s comments, made in 1972, are debated. Is his reference to the 1789 French Revolution  or to a 1968 student uprising in Paris, which essentially shut down the country for a few weeks in summer 1968?[vii]  

“Still plant an apple tree.”

Protestant reformer Martin Luther, when asked about the end of the world, replied, “Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant an apple tree.”[viii]

The Sasse, Zhou Enlai and Luther quotes illustrate that organizations, through their leadership and outputs, leave conscious or unconscious current and prospective imprints,[ix] although entities aren’t alone in this regard:

  • Circa early 1990s, Canadians, primarily college students, were paid to plant black spruce trees – six feet apart in neat rows  – to mitigate environmental effects of timber clear-cutting. Decades later, those plantings may have exacerbated 2023 Canadian wildfires.”[x]
  • Myriad chemical compounds, considered blessings as introduced, produce environmental or health chaos years later.
  • “Victors” in 2022 United States Supreme Court rulings relating to Roe v. Wade contend  with the potential of  fifty-state referenda regarding abortion, which aren’t  tallying in their favor. [xi]
  • And, of course, consider all things COVID-19.

Of course, the “converse” may be true, namely not all “consequences” are bad – think medicinal compounds, having one purpose but aiding with other health conditions. 

The paradox of ‘living in the moment’

Organizations are human resource endeavors characterized by both tangible (widgets) or intangible outputs – policy, laws, rules, regulations. (AI, of course, is an emergent consideration[xii] as well as the rise of entrepreneurial tech influencers.[xiii])

Organizations, existing on a continuum, are increasingly urged to become adaptive and entrepreneurial to best compete in an ever-flattening world, although organizational structures don’t always accommodate or sustain entrepreneurship.[xiv] 

Admittedly, organizational leadership must be fitted to secure the organization’s short- and long-term viability, including the rise of the generalist leader – the focus of Range: Why Generalists Triumph In a Specialized World.[xv]

No matter, these words of Robert Hunter also ring true:

Everything you (the organization in this case) cherish

Throws you over in the end

Thorns will grab your ankles

From the gardens you tend.[xvi]

‘Persist, pivot or concede’

Matthew McConaughey’s “persist, pivot or concede,” [xvii] may be applicable when an organization’s trade winds change as policymakers and funders fixate on the organization’s “architecture” – the schema of how organization carries out its mission as having evolved by influences of time and internal and external considerations – to achieve larger policymaker aims.

Faced with change, organizations, often – certainly not always – have temporal “windows” to embrace policymakers’ nudges and boosts[xviii] to refocus policy dynamics. Organizational non-negotiables, however, create homeostasis (equilibrium) even symmetry,[xix] balancing disparate parts within the organization or to hedge the organization’s threats. When policymakers, having higher-charged leverage, namely long-haul funding, or regulatory prowess, seek to rearrange or supplant“ organizational architectural” non-negotiables, organizations often see these developments as threatening core organizational worth and value. Thus, preservation of  non-negotiables are greatly magnified often becoming the organizational mission. 

Accordingly, is Aaron Tippen’s “You’ve got to stand for something, or you’ll fall for anything,”[xx]the best  organizational stance when policymakers, having a broader perspective, seek to reframe the organization prospectively?[xxi]

We’ll explore these considerations in future blog posts. Meanwhile, in the spirit of  residing “in the moment,” I recommend Kipling’s “If” as well as provide historical context for a literally fatalistic phrase we hear almost daily. I invite your input as we For existentialists among us, I include a Gertrude Stein quote. Visi

[i] https://www.intechopen.com/chapters/84536 is a representative read. Also consider  https://unifiedmindfulness.com/mindfulness-good-business or https://hbr.org/2021/03/where-mindfulness-falls-short

[ii] https://www.mr-sustainability.com/why-how-what-who/clear-non-negotiables#on. The author states, “Clear non-negotiables are the rules everyone in the organization adheres to in order to achieve the cause. They provide clear guidelines and rules for the organization to operate in. They are the framework and basis for cooperation.”

[iii] https://grammarist.com/idiom/the-hill-you-want-to-die-on/

[iv] https://conversationswithtyler.com/episodes/ben-sasse/

[v] https://www.nytimes.com/2023/09/15/arts/jann-wenner-the-masters-interview.html Wenner’s complete quote, “Both consciously and unconsciously. Despite the Trump thing, despite the Republican presidents of the last 30 years, which have held back enormous amounts of progress, society has become so much more liberal. I think rock ’n’ roll played a huge role in that. Did it do everything? No. Was it the sole thing? No. But we did a lot.”

[vi] https://apnews.com/article/jann-wenner-rolling-stone-rock-hall-4052a04c35ce13cc2b17b5455ebe6883.)

[vii] https://professorbuzzkill.com/qnq-26-zhou-enlai/

[viii] https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/martin_luther_380369

[ix] “…(Political) change is fantastically difficult and often takes decades. But the degree of difficulty is only part of the story.” Those of the words of Op-ed columnist David Leonhardt who quotes author Fredrik deBoer who argues progressive social reformers “…also bear some responsibility for their disappointments. Above all, they made decisions geared more toward changing elite segments of American society — like academia, Hollywood and the national media — than toward passing new laws and changing most people’s lives.” For Leonhardt’s article, refer to   https://www.nytimes.com/2023/09/26/briefing/me-too-black-lives-matter-occupy-wall-street.html Also refer to


[x] https://www.nytimes.com/2023/09/15/opinion/wildfires-treeplanting-timebomb.html

[xi] https://www.politico.com/news/magazine/2023/08/08/ohio-ballot-republicans-00110169

[xii] https://hbr.org/2023/08/ai-wont-replace-humans-but-humans-with-ai-will-replace-humans-without-ai#  https://hbr.org/2023/08/ai-wont-replace-humans-but-humans-with-ai-will-replace-humans-without-ai#:

[xiii] “The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do it.” – Steve Jobs, Apple co-founder.   

[xiv] https://hbr.org/2017/03/hiring-an-entrepreneurial-leader

[xv] https://davidepstein.com/

[xvi] https://www.azquotes.com/quote/594040 Hunter, a U.S. lyricist, singer-songwriter, translator, and poet, best known for his work with the Grateful Dead, died in 2019.

[xvii] https://greenlights.com/#book (Crown / Crownpublishing.com, New York, N.Y. 2020 (Penguin Random House LLC), p. 14. Of “persist, pivot, or concede,” McConaughey says, ‘It’s up to us, our choice every time.”

[xviii] https://www.businessballs.com/improving-workplace-performance/nudge-theory/

[xix] https://www.mr-sustainability.com/why-how-what-who/clear-non-negotiables

[xx] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z_s-Qk07KxA

[xxi]David Epstein states, “Everyone is digging deeper into their own trench and rarely standing up to look in the next trench over, even though the solution to their problem happens to reside there. Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World