30th July 2015

If I Had a Hammer

The man who only has a hammer sees every problem as a nail, is a very poignant aphorism. Wherever we are in life and business we seem to have our own bag of tools. That bag of tools contains the things that we know and we are comfortable with. Those tools have served us well, after all they have helped us to get to where we are, and heaven knows we may not have progressed as far as some but we have definitely travelled further than others.

So we can justifiably feel proud and even a little defensive of who we are and the tools we have in our tool box. It may well be that so far, on our journey, the only problems we have come across have been metaphorical nails and the hammer has been quite sufficient for the job.  That won’t always be the case. As businesses grow, the problems don’t, as some would have us believe, get smaller or disappear. On the contrary the problems actually get bigger, but hopefully our ability to solve those problems  will also have increased by an even faster rate.

Sooner or later we will discover that the hammer we have isn’t the right tool for every job, and only being able to use a hammer will cause us to feel stuck and frustrated. The only way to become unstuck is to acquire other tools and become proficient in their use.

It is time to introduce Ashby’s Law of Requisite Variety. Simply put what Ashby’s law states is that if the variety of problems is greater than the variety of solutions, the problems win. Conversely if there are more available solutions than there are problems, the solutions will win out. Another way to say it is that in any situation the person with the most flexibility will always come out on top.

Take it from one who knows, simply possessing the tool without knowing how to use the tool is of little use and great danger. To extend the metaphor one of the outputs of professional and effective coaching is to arm the coachee with a variety of tools and the ability to understand which can be deployed in any given situation as well as arming him with the ability to choose the most appropriate solution and to enact that solution easily and effortlessly in the most effective way.

In other words one of the specific outputs from a well delivered coaching interaction is flexibility, and as we noted above the person with the most flexibility will always come out on top.
Einstein said “The significant challenges we face cannot be solved by the same level of thinking we were at when we created them”. High quality coaching will help you to think at a higher level by arming you with the ability to be more mentally flexible.

If you ask any of my coaching clients what the biggest difference has been since they were coached, to a man or a woman they will say it has changed the way they think, because “The brain, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions.”  Who is stretching your thinking?

Some clients have asked that I append some reading recommendations to my weekly blog. I hope you get value from the books I recommend. The books are mentioned at random and will have no relationship to the blog above.

Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t  by Simon Sinek

I don’t think the title does this book justice. Sinek opens with a fairly obvious metaphor about leaders eating last, which is hardly a worthwhile effort from one of the world’s greatest thought leaders or as a follow up to “Start with Why”, his earlier book, but once I got past that the book proved worthy of the author and is a really insightful view on leadership that would benefit anyone.