George Richardson

Stop Holding Your Tools Wrong

I’ve probably seen a dozen people try to hammer a nail with the claw end of their hammer. No, that’s not fair, I’ve seen a dozen people kind of successfully hammer a nail with the claw end of their hammer. I usually ask: “Why are you trying to hammer a nail with the claw end of your hammer?”, the response is often something along the lines of “Because I need to put a nail into the wall”. I may then try and politely demonstrate the alternative. “I prefer my way”. In reality it wasn’t a hammer, it was software.

A painting of a man holding a hammer the wrong way round.
Not only is he using it wrong, but it might be too big. (Dall-E)

Many organisations love to adopt software to fix problems, but hate changing their process to match that software’s workflow. They are holding their tools wrong, which invariably results in despair and frustration for all involved.

“I know how to use a hammer”

You may be using your tools wrong now, and you don’t even know it. Do you have documentation to use your tool which doesn’t just refer to the official documentation? Do you have some software with a dozen plugins that are all essential to solving the problem that the software was supposed to solve on its own? Do new starters always seem confused why you are doing something that way? You are probably holding your hammer wrong and should try using the other end.

“But after we bought the hammer nail throughput went up 500%”

Don’t fall into the improvement trap, just because a tool is helping doesn’t mean it can’t work better. Nobody would willingly use a tool if they thought it was hindering them. Permanent adoption of a new tool will always come with enough efficiency increases to offset the cost. But if you are paying for it, you may as well try and get all the possible benefits.

“We have unique nails which require advanced hammering technique”

No you don’t. The problem you are trying to solve is not unique, that’s why you can buy software to solve it. Your process is only superficially different to that of your peers. Those surface differences are likely tied up in human preference and habit, not any real business requirement.

“OK, if you are so good at hammering, how should we be doing it then?”

The solution is simple: turn the hammer around. You are 90% of the way there, you’ve already found the right tool for the job, you just need to hold it correctly. When the software’s preferred workflow does not fully map to your existing process, just change your process to match the software’s. There will be a brief period of friction as everyone adjusts, but this temporary strife pales in comparison to the invisible long tail of inefficiency you are already living with.

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Hi! I'm George. I do things in the cloud and sometimes write about it.
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