To One With A Hammer…

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“To one with a hammer, every problem can look like a nail.”

–     paraphrase from Abraham Maslow’s “Psychology of Science” (1966)

It’s known as “the law of the instrument,” a “cognitive bias that leads to an over-reliance on a familiar tool.”  It can be most evident in business as denial, or an unwillingness to learn new approaches.

Why?  It really is easier if we don’t have to carry too many tools.  My grandpa Stark (yes, I come from House Stark!  And I still have my head!) carried a ball-peen hammer that still sits on the corner of my desk.  It’s gotta be 110 years old.  The amazing thing about “Starky” was that he could tap with that hammer on danged near anything — and fix it.

35 years ago, sales trainers taught “closing skills,” and those skills were the hammer for a couple generations.  Today, they’re the ball-peen hammer we’ve carried for years, or the 9-pound hammer that we want to swing at an objection.

35 years later, that’s a flawed strategy.

So, I still keep Starky’s ball-peen on my desk as a reminder of the man, but also as a reminder that today, more than ever, there are more tools available to us — and that most of our problems are not nails.

Research, solid questioning skills, understanding the prospect of clients’ business.  Curiosity, empathy, creativity.  These are the tools today that make “closing” over-rated.  If we use these tools appropriately, we won’t need to hammer, or even tap too hard to get the outcome that’s best for everyone in the conversation.

Before we grab a tool, let’s commit to three fundamental behaviors that will put us in a position to be better craftsmen, regardless of the tool we use:

  1. Commit to understanding what our challenge really is, at its core, at its cause.  Let’s commit to knowing why!
  2. Commit to determining whether a current tool will do the job, and whether we need to learn a new way to use that tool.
  3. Commit to actively considering getting a new tool or learning a new skill.  Consider asking for help from some other “master craftsperson” who might have a different approach, tool or skill.

Instead of always being a person with a hammer, let’s make sure we have a complete set of tools, skills and partners to bring the best solution to bear when we need it most.

 


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