About being sensible

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Beware over reliance on tools

Deirdre Wilson – Tuesday, July 18, 2017   


Beware over reliance on toolsTools of all sorts are being sold to us as the latest desirable purchase. The latest time-waster to plague meetings is the chorus of competing suggestions for new tools that happens whenever someone mentions a problem.

The problem is: tools don't solve problems. The right tool, used to execute an action against to the right problem at the right time, will bring about a change – but the tool itself doesn't solve the problem.

Imagine a hammer. It can't solve any problem by itself. You can't lie a hammer beside a nail and expect to get a result – you still need to operate the tool. The tool itself can't tell you if it is the right one for the job either – that is something that you have to decide for yourself.

We are being sold tools rather than skills. And that is understandable – it's easier to sell a hammer than teach people how to decide if a hammer is the right tool and if it is then teach them how to use it. Its even simpler to describe selling a hammer than the alternative (I am even not going to type all that stuff about using the hammer all over again).

It doesn't matter whether the tool is a piece of software, an app, a hammer or a fancy saucepan. Just having the tool isn't enough. In fact, the tools can disguise the lack of ability for a while and suck up enormous amounts of time in wrestling with how to use them.

I have just cancelled a couple of Saas subscriptions for tools that showed so much promise but sucked up so much time trying to get them to produce the results I wanted. I have gone back to ugly spreadsheets which are faster, more flexible and allow me time to think about the problem rather than wrestle with the software. And that's the key: if, after you have learnt how to use the tool, you are still thinking about the tool instead of solving the problem then you are using the wrong tool.

Saas tools are so seductively sold now that they become quite desirable. I have heard so many people boast about the accounting software they use, chiding others for 'not making the change'. Seriously, accounting software – when did we start boasting about our choice of accounting software?

And battery operated power tools that share the same power pack are being sold as a set that you should want to collect, just the way kids are encouraged to collect footy cards or Star Wars figures. The collection of tools has been sold to us as a mark of success. But the only success that a collection of tools marks is the ability to collect tools. If that's what you want to achieve then collect away to your heart's content.

What I do now in my office is check if any of us are spending a lot of time working out how to use a tool and use that as a flag to stop and assess the value of the tool. We will commit to learning how to use a new tool if we already know how to solve the problem and are looking for a more efficient way of bringing about the outcome.

We always look at new tools and have introduced some really time saving, useful, efficient tools, but we have abandoned just as many. The beauty of Saas is that the cost to purchase is usually incurred on a monthly, no commitment basis so trying and abandoning them is not a big financial drain. But the process can be a time drain – so beware the allure of tools for their own sake!

This post is by Deirdre Wilson, Director of Hothouse Design in Melbourne Australia.

I am lucky enough to have great conversations with some really interesting, clever and honest people. Mostly we talk about life and human nature and occasionally we talk about business. So I am sharing some of those conversations, or at least the topic and the conclusion. Please join me in the conversation by commenting.

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