To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
Nails are a great way to connect things; fast and easy to apply, nails have been used for centuries. All you need is a hammer and a nail and job done. Screws are better at holding things together but they are slower to use – you cant just bang in a screw with a few blows. You need to drill a hole, then use a screw driver to turn it in – two pieces of equipment instead of one, and the operator has to have more skill (to get the hole the right size). Bolts and nuts are an even better way to hold things together but they are much slower and require even more equipment – a drill, a driver and a spanner. Bolts require even more skill to use because the hole has to be exactly the right size and sometimes you need washers as well.
I live in a world where everything has to be done faster – we get impatient waiting for water to boil, as Matt Church said even instant coffee is too slow for some. A hammer is too slow these days, we have invented the hammer gun, a device which can drive a hundred nails a second. When a nail is not enough we have invented self tapping screws that can be driven by a machine, allowing many screws to be applied in minutes. And we have machines that can drive bolts as well. Even with much faster connection solutions, the temptation remains; if you have a hammer then everything still looks like a nail. When it comes to problem solving we often use the hammer approach – well tried, fast and easy, we bang out a solution and get on with it.
Consultants and personal coaches like me tend to come along after three or four solutions have been tried. Our client by now is often ready to listen to advice, sometimes ready to slow down and understand the root problem before suggesting another solution, occasionally ready even to accept that they may not have the personal skills to solve the problem.
Recently I have seen a separate issue preventing problems form being solved; an issue that keeps businesses, organisations and individuals locked in their cycle. I forgot that the hammersmith is proud of his hammer wielding abilities. He likes to use his skills and they give a tremendous sense of self satisfaction. He likes to display his skills for others to see, to admire, to praise. Ego may not be a dirty word but it is certainly a roadblock to growth and problem solving.
Whilst Jesus Christ offers an interesting and unique way of overcoming our ego most people aren’t interested in his advice. An alternative may be to reconsider how we feed our ego – the traditional way already mentioned is to feed our ego by doing what we do well. An alterative is to feed our ego by learning new skills. To recognise our hammer ability whilst also learning to drive screws. Of course we see this often, from academics to the medical profession and many others besides, we recognise the need to keep learning new skills.
Why is it that some people get stuck whilst others keep growing? Why do some repeat the same cycles whilst others break free and create new cycles? Why do some people defend their hammering skills when others are learning about nuts and bolts? We have mentioned the problem of speed already – sometimes we just wont invest the time needed to learn a new skill, or to uncover a root cause to a problem before trying to solve it. Perhaps another issue is our discomfort with uncertainty, our desire to know what is next, our will to be in control? Clients become very uneasy when we discover that we don’t actually know the root cause, and they become fearful when we realise we don’t have a solution. I think this is a lack of faith – faith that there is always a solution to every problem, faith that by following good process we’ll find a solution, faith that searching for new answers can be better that repeating old ones.
And I think that underneath faith there is trust. Trust in our self, trust in another, trust in the universe, trust in God. The failure cycle locks people into fear and a lack of trust in themselves – how can I trust myself when I keep making the same mistakes? When others let us down or don’t do what we want them or expected them to do we can lose trust in them. When our world seems to be in a downward spiral it’s easy to consider that the universe is purely negative and difficult and against us. And when we don’t know God we don’t trust God.
Of course I will suggest that the solution to all problems is to get to know God, and as a consequence to learn to trust God, and as a consequence to forget about ego altogether. The universe can and does let us down. So do people. And we let ourselves down also. We can’t learn to trust God through our experiences; we need to experience God himself and first hand. When we do we realise that we don’t have to rely on our hammer, we wont have to limit our world to one filled with only nails.