Why Are You Cutting Stones?

Last week I had a conversation with a marketing director who was as frustrated as he’d ever been. As a former journalist, he found himself now running part of the marketing organization for a B2B company. While he and his group had the usual challenges of focusing on quality over quantity as they feed the content and marketing engine, this wasn’t his frustration. What was leading him to consider quitting was frustration over where his work was going.

He said, “To produce excellent work, I have to spend my personal time and effort to make each piece special. And I have to make sure that each of my writers is creating valuable things too.”

I asked him, “What are you building?” He asked what I meant. I told him this story of the three stonecutters.

Here’s how the story goes. A man happens upon three stonecutters. He stops and asks each one what he’s doing. The first stonecutter pauses from his work and says, “I’m cutting stones. I’m doing my job. I’m making a living.” The second stonecutter keeps hammering as he says, “I’m cutting and polishing the best-crafted stones in the entire country.” The third stonecutter wipes his brow, points to the horizon, and says, “I am building a cathedral that will stand there.”

At various times in our careers, we all find ourselves as one or the other of these stonecutters. Sometimes we see what we’re doing as just a job, something to slog through, a means to an end. Sometimes we find satisfaction in what we’re doing, crafting individual pieces that we feel good about. And finally, yes, sometimes we tune in to the why behind the what – the larger vision that our efforts contribute to.

It’s easy to get lost as the second stonecutter. We may fool ourselves into thinking that we’re working toward something worthwhile – the equivalent of beautifully polished stones – but, if we’re honest, it’s “worthwhile” with a little “w.” Lacking a cathedral, we find ourselves moving from job to job, taking our commitment to excellence – and our frustration – with us everywhere.

“You’re the second stonecutter,” I told my friend. I advised him to adopt some aspects of his job that he was less comfortable with. I suggested that he integrate more strategically into the business rather than see himself as separate from it. I urged him to build proposals for cathedrals.

I urge all of us to do the same.

Robert Rose
Chief Strategy Officer at The Content Advisory

As the Chief Strategy Officer of The Content Advisory, the exclusive education and consulting group of The Content Marketing Institute, Robert develops content and customer experience strategies for large enterprises such as The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Oracle, McCormick Spices, Capital One, and UPS.


Robert’s book, Experiences: The 7th Era of Marketing was called “a call to arms and a self-help guide for creating the experiences that consumers will fall in love with.” For the last three years, he’s co-hosted the podcast This Old Marketing, with Joe Pulizzi. It’s frequently a top 20 marketing podcast on iTunes and is downloaded more than a million times every year, in 100 countries around the world.


Robert Rose on LinkedinRobert Rose on Twitter


Author: Robert Rose
<p>As the Chief Strategy Officer of The Content Advisory, the exclusive education and consulting group of The Content Marketing Institute, Robert develops content and customer experience strategies for large enterprises such as The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Oracle, McCormick Spices, Capital One, and UPS.</p> <p>Robert’s book, Experiences: The 7th Era of Marketing was called “a call to arms and a self-help guide for creating the experiences that consumers will fall in love with.” For the last three years, he’s co-hosted the podcast This Old Marketing, with Joe Pulizzi. It’s frequently a top 20 marketing podcast on iTunes and is downloaded more than a million times every year, in 100 countries around the world.</p>