Maslow’s Hammer: The curse of tool blindness

That ALMOST looks like nail. Doesn’t it?
image courtesy of Justin Baeder

In 1966 Abraham Maslow said, “I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.” Maslow gave us all too much credit. When we have a hammer and know how great it is, we not only treat everything as a nail, we actually perceive everything to be a nail. One develops a blindness to “non-nail” problems and creative problem solving takes a back seat to picking up that hammer and smashing the problem.

For those of us in the tool-making business, this blindness can be our greatest weakness. We know our tools extremely well, and know how to bend them to purposes outside their sweet-spot. When users talk about those related uses, we have the opportunity to recognize a new market for a new tool. More often than not, we apply the existing tool blind to the opportunity.

So What?

Normal people who use rather than make tools need to be doubly aware of tool blindness. As tool users, we need to be cognizant of when we are using a hammer on a screw but we also must beware of our tool providers telling us to do so.


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