Maslow’s Hammer

Definition

If you only have a hammer, then everything looks like a nail. Folks mistakenly use Maslow’s hammer by applying a familiar solution to every problem.

Why Use It

Over-relying on one tool comes at the expense of employing a more suitable one.

When to Use It

“Man with a hammer” syndrome is a subconscious process where, instead of considering options, individuals return to solutions that have worked previously without thought or hesitation.

For example, a physical therapist might recommend non-surgical treatments for a torn muscle, where a surgeon would recommend surgery. Each party is subject to its own bias.

In another scenario, a psychiatrist might over-prescribe antipsychotic drugs to patients who suffer from mental illnesses that would not benefit from this treatment.

When it comes to software, it’s easy to fall into these anti-patterns. An engineer might prefer specific languages or comfortable tools that might not be the best choice for a project. Without realizing it, they embrace solutions that are both ineffective and counterproductive.

This type of scenario plays out in all professions and walks of life.

How to Use It

Take more time when considering a problem and its potential solution. Get to know the space and concerns surrounding the issue.

Engaging in multi-disciplinary education will place more solutions at your disposal and ultimately mitigate the risk of being over-reliant on your “hammer.” Increase your knowledge, grow your circle of competence, and organize your “tools” for better use.

How to Misuse It

Just because a hammer is not the right choice for screws doesn’t mean there aren’t nails out there waiting to be hammered. The point is to think about what is the right tool for the job. Don’t discount the hammer altogether; you might just find a nail.

Next Step

Next time you have a problem and you’re looking in the proverbial tool shed for a solution, take a look around. Maybe you need a wrench or a screwdriver, or pliers, or a saw, or a mallet, or something else entirely. If you have all those options in your head, then surely you’ll know which is the right fit.

Where it Came From

Maslow’s hammer, aka Maslow’s gavel, aka golden hammer, aka man with a hammer syndrome, aka law of the hammer, aka law of the instrument, was introduced by Abraham Maslow in 1966. He is better known for the hierarchy of needs that models human fulfillment.

Decades later, Charlie Munger expanded on theory in his speech, “A Lesson on Elementary, Worldly Wisdom as It Relates to Investment Management and Business.”

What Are Mental Models?

Mental models are thinking tools that help guide and shape our perceptions of the world. They simplify complexity so we can understand life better, make decisions confidently, and solve problems.

Deep Dive Into Mental Models Bi-weekly.

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