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May 24, 1994

Work with Your Head, Not Just Your Strength

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I also saw under the sun this example of wisdom that greatly impressed me: There was once a small city with only a few people in it. And a powerful king came against it, surrounded it and built huge siegeworks against it. Now there lived in that city a man poor but wise, and he saved the city by his wisdom…. The quiet words of the wise are more to be heeded than the shouts of a ruler of fools. ECCLESIASTES 9:13-15, 17
In the business world, it used to be that the big ate the small. Now, the fast eat the slow.
Here, Solomon suggests yet another scenario: the wise eat the fools. Once upon a time, he says, there was a great king with real strength who decided to conquer a small city with few people. Nobody seriously questioned the outcome; after all, who could go up against this king and his mighty army?
But hold on! One resident of the city was very poor yet very wise. He came up with a solution for conquering the great king and his strong army. His suggestion worked, and the king had to find another city to conquer.
The moral of the story is this: Wisdom is always in style, even when we don’t have very much power or authority. People generally feel as if they have less authority or power than they need to push a solution through to completion. That applies to CEOs as well as to people lower in the organizational hierarchy. Yet Solomon suggests that working with our heads just might be more effective than tapping into the power grid.
In his story, an unlikely individual came up with a solution that saved the town. He certainly didn’t have positional authority, and we’re not even sure anybody asked his opinion. He simply offered what turned out to be very wise advice, and everybody was pleased with the result (except for the king who had to find another town to conquer).
So Solomon concludes, “The quiet words of the wise are more to be heeded than the shouts of a ruler of fools.” Sometimes it’s better to sit back, close our eyes, and think than it is to rush.

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