If your only tool is a hammer every problem looks like a nail

In a previous post I revealed that I have a weakness to explore multiple topics and interests – always seeking the latest and best.

I also have a pet hate, which may or may not be a weakness too. It may be the flipside of my yen for the epistemic; so let me explain:

I am reading a book at the moment This Explains Everything edited by John Brockman. Find it in my Library here.)

Basically it is a hundred plus thinkers/intelligentsia who are all trying to answer the same question: What is your favourite deep, elegant or beautiful explanation. The responses range from theories on consciousness to particle physics to natural selection. (Incidentally, it may the most referenced idea in the book.)

However, one thing struck me immediately:

  • Physicists expounded a Physics theory
  • Neurobiologists and neuro-scientific idea
  • Linguists offered a linguistic idea.

And so on.

The bogan version of that phenomenon would be:

If the only tool you have is a hammer then every problem looks like a nail.

And THAT is one of my pet hates.

The book offers over a hundred ideas that are meant to be THE idea, which ironically proves the point that there is no ONE IDEA that ever will.

One of the flaws in our everyday thinking patterns is that we think exclusively more often than inclusively:

We normally think the answer is A or B. We rarely think the answer can be A and B.

Example 1: A company may feel compelled to choose between launching Product A or Product B, or feel compelled to choose a market penetration strategy over a diversification strategy.

Example 2: Australians are encouraged (by politicians and media alike) to be either for or against boat people. (The local illegal immigrant narrative in Australia.) But there is an inclusive solution.

Example 3: If you want to persuade a child to brush their teeth before they go to bed, you offer them two options: Do you want to brush your teeth now after the meal or do you want to brush it before you go to bed?

Example 3: In retail sales, we train assistants to use this general thinking style in their favour. When you ask a customer whether they prefer the red dress more or the blue one more, they say neither.

Practical resource constraints aside, there is no logical reason why only one answer will be the right answer.

I am not advocating indecisiveness – that would simply be lazy.

I am not advocating lack of focus – that would simply be stupid.

What I am saying that there isn’t always just one correct answer. There isn’t always just one tool for the job. By recognising this, we may actually save time and money by cutting short the search for perfection.

Dennis Price

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