Cutting Wood


I was pruning a flowering cherry tree recently that had got somewhat out of control.  Just a few limbs off to thin it out and shape it a bit better.  Not a complicated job.  So I thought.

I learned a lot that morning.  Each limb that looked so small and straightforward from the place where I had to cut it, turned out to be a complex monster intertwined with many other branches in the tree.  So when you had cut through the branch, it was impossible to pull it down without cutting into ten or more smaller branches to release the main trunk. And when it came down, it was massively bigger than it looked in the tree.  

After only three limbs,  I had made about 50 cuts and the garden was full of tree, leaves and branches to the point that you couldn’t pass by.  Then came the task of disposing of the branches. That meant more and more chopping up and sawing to reduce the pile to a manageable size and then bundle it into piles that could actually be lifted out of the garden.

So what was going to be a few minutes work, turned into hours of hard labour.  The tree looks better now but what has been removed leaves, not the even shape intended, but a rather more uneven mass.  Not terrible, but not quite as intended.

It made me think about organisations and the pruning that is going on at the moment.  Every simple ‘limb’ that you want to cut off is always joined to the main body of the organisation in ways you had not realised until you start the sawing.  And the process is infinitely more complex than the original -relatively simple- cut. And even when you have done the surgery, there is still an unholy mess to clear up. And if it is not done well and completely you end up with something worse than what you started with.

What begins as a simple task, can impact on the whole,  unless you do some careful planning and take a good look at the task in hand.  And once you start, you have to finish, right down to the sweeping up the bits.  It is never as easy as it appears, and requires professional input. 

But you can also argue that, done well you retain the tree in a viable mass and shape for the future.

This is particularly true of the learning infrastructure in an organisation.  That small team of learning professionals are well and truly tangled in with the organisation.  Cutting that limb out is painful, complex and careful task.  Do not do that in haste.  You will regret it.


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2 Responses to “Cutting Wood” - Leave a Comment

  1. Hi Nigel, I like the comparisons you’re drawing, but to extend the analogy… most plants will continue to grow and thrive after any sort of hacking. They generally have a brief set-back, then they sprout crazy new growth in all directions as they adapt to the changes… but as you say, unless the pruning is done carefully and by someone who knows what they are doing, the results are likely to be mishapen and completely unanticipated. It takes years of learning and practice to develop the sort of control over pruning results that a bonsai master has.

  2. You are right Anita. And to switch it back to organisations, there is a lot of hacking away at the moment rather than intelligent pruning. And the result is always unexpected and misshapen. Hope you are well.

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