It’s a poor craftsman that blames his tools – I both love and hate this phrase…

…and I use it all the time for that exact reason. I’ve been involved with many projects both in my personal and professional life where I have a responsibility to make things work. Whether I’m building a system to collect forecasting data for business planning or making a podcast with my friends, there are a collection of different tools and processes involved. And in both of these situations the right tools can help make a big difference, but they’re also just one piece of the puzzle.

It’s easy to point at tools as the reason for failure

The tools we use, whether we’re talking about a microphone, a notebook, or a software platform, it’s easy to call out how it’s holding us back. I know for me, if I’m trying to do something and it doesn’t go as planned, one of my first reactions is to look outward at those very tools as the resason things didn’t go better.

It’s then very tempting for me to examine all of the reasons I need a better tool. It’s temping to do this as a way to avoid looking inward at how I’m actually asking people to use the tools we have. Are we experts with these tools? Do we really know how/when to use them?

Instead of taking the easy way out–casting blame at the tools–I prefer to pause and understand how we might be able to make better use of the tools. Figure out what went wrong or where the gaps are where these tools don’t seem to be good enough. More often than not I find that there’s some room for improvement of the process.

Then again, sometimes tools really do matter

Tools do matter (this is precicely why I have the love/hate relationship with this phrase). I find that this is especially true when our skill levels are either really low or really high.

When our skill levels are really low, fancy tools can help cover up mistakes. Autotune for a singer is a great example here.  Someone with practically zero skill, experience, or understanding can sound like a reasonably decent singer. There’s an unnatural quality to it, but it has better appeal than their natural singing voice.

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When our skill levels are really high, then better tools can offer a greater level of precision, or help out with some of the low-value work to free up more bandwidth to focus on the finer touches that a true craftsman can bring to a job. This is the singer whose talent is showcased through a well-produced recording.

It’s a trap!

The point in all of this is the following: Tools are important, but they’re only one aspect of what we need to be successful. With the autotune example above, this can also be a trap for someone. They can rely on this tool as a crutch.

When starting out with something new, there’s an additional hurdle that we don’t even know which tools are good or bad for solving our problems. This makes matters worse–especially in a group setting where people will express their deep concerns over this or that tool. The fact of the matter is that every tool will have trade-offs. Once a decision is finally made on how to move forward there’s a feeling of finality, when in reality this is only one of many tools that will be used along the way.

Making do when you need to (but aspiring to more)

What I advocate for (which is where I’ve experienced the most success) is identifying a reasonable starting place. Do enough research about the available tools to get an understanding of what some of the appropriate options are. Ask around–there are probably experts with just about every one of the tools solving similar problems to the ones you’re trying to fix.

The next step is to make a decision for the starting point. Which tool can we try out that seems like it might be the one for the job? There is almost certainly NO “perfect” tool with where you’re at in the process. Even if you pick the one that ends up being the perfect thing–it may take a long time to realize it.

The last step here is so important: take time to objectively evaluate the tool. This is different from blaming or praising the tool in the heat of the moment. There will be good jobs and bad ones using the same set of tools. Taking the time to review the effectiveness of these tools over time enables us to identify when to make a move and to make more informed decisions in the future.

Which tools do you use today that you really like? Which ones are you using that you want to upgrade? I want to hear and respond in the comments!

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Matthew C. Anderson
 

I'm an enthusiastic speaker, creator, and problem-solver.

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