28
May
2007

Tools people 22:26 on Monday

We were preparing the rowing boat for the summer, carrying it to the shore, cleaning it, and removing the plug. The problem was, the plug would not come out. The boat is upside down during the winter, and my father had stuck in a wine bottle cork so that ice would not fill the hole and break it. Twisting and pulling, we managed to tear out half of the cork from the inside, but now we were left with half of it clogged in. So how do you get the cork out if you can’t grab it? My immediate reaction was to find a piece of wood a bit smaller than the hole, and a stone to use as a hammer. Surely we could hammer out the remaining cork. And turned out we could. The piece of cork came out so easily, it probably would have required only a slight push with a finger.

Maybe some of us are “tools people” — people who first and foremost start to think of tools when encountering new problems.

Tools are great for several things:

  • Big problems.
  • Repeating problems.
  • Problems that require more physical capacity than available. Try hammering a nail without a hammer, for instance.
  • Problems that require more mental capacity than available. Let’s say for example, problems that require you to remember a hundred things.

But there are also a couple of disadvantages to being a tool person.

First, when you encounter a new problem, you probably don’t yet know if the problem is big, if you will ever encounter it again, or what does it take to solve the problem. You assume, and assumptions can go wrong, much like in my example above.

Second, when you assume you need tools, those tools need to be either found or made yourself. Both finding and making tools takes time. Instead of first trying to manually push the cork out, I used a couple of minutes to find a suitable set of tools: a piece of wood of the right size and a flat stone.

I really don’t know what the moral of this story is. Maybe: try the easiest solution first? This also implies that “the easiest” is not synonymous with “the most obvious”.

2 Responses to “Tools people”

    Comments:

  1. Tina Aspiala Says:

    Funny you should go into this just now. It was only a few days ago that I went into a unproductive loop about a project that didn’t have a clear answer, I just had to figure out what it was that needed to be done. The very first things that came to mind were wildly complicated, because I had a mental toolset prepared for complications. In the end I was utterly wrong–the solution was so simple I had initiall dismissed it off-hand.

    The English literature litmus test for whether you’re a “tools person” is James Joyce’s Ulysses. If you’re all set to analyze every inch of this tome, you’ll barely get past the first page or two–but those who read it “for fun” miraculously finish it.

  2. Niko Says:

    Thanks for finding a credible explanation for me being such a lousy reader of books. :)