Hammers don’t solve every problem

Sometimes a little finesse and flexibility goes a long way

By Morf Morford, Tacoma Daily Index

To a one with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

For better or worse, most, if not all of us, look at problems and challenges through the lens of what we already know and the tools and strategies we have at hand – and have used before.

The most important principle to problem solving – or dealing with life at all, is to have access to a wide range of tools and potential responses at one’s disposal.

In other words, the mere addition of tools and strategies can set the stage for a better understanding of any problem – which of course means that one is inherently more capable of moving toward a lasting and satisfactory solution.

The difficulty, of course, is that not every problem is a “nail,” and a hammer, while useful, if not essential in some situations, is irrelevant, if not destructive, in other circumstances. In other words, a hammer, like every other tool, has a limited range of use.

A hammer is one tool among a constellation of tools mastered and prepared for any contingency.

Similarly, the economy and culture, and almost any given conversation and business decision, seem rife with multiple unforeseeable contingencies.

Agility and flexibility, kind of like martial arts of the marketplace, are the required skill set for success in today’s unpredictable landscape.

Pure force, represented by the metaphor of a hammer, works some times. But just as often perhaps, force causes as much damage as any positive result.

In short, the hammer is not the problem – but the reliance on any one solution is.

Every aspect of our society is changing so rapidly that those with more tools in their possession will better navigate the uncertainty that seems to multiply, fragment and deepen every day.

No solution, and no problem, stands alone

No problem, from chronic homelessness to overwhelming debt, emerges from nothing. There are a thousand barely noticeable steps that take us to any seemingly intractable and irreversible problem.

A few years ago I was watching two boys climbing a tree. One said to the other, in the lecture-like tone he had probably heard it from his parents, “Don’t get yourself into a situation you can’t get out of!” That’s good advice as far as it goes. But it doesn’t go very far.

I must admit that phrase has never been one of my life philosophies. To a large degree, it doesn’t seem likely, or even possible. At least in most cases.

While it is true that I tend to get myself (on a fairly regular basis, my wife would say) into ridiculous, if not nearly impossible situations, for the most part, I believe that if we can get ourselves into a situation, we are capable of getting ourselves out.

It might be messier, more complicated and certainly more difficult than creating the problem, but getting extricated from a seemingly impossible situation is possible – most of the time. And certainly sets the stage for better that usual life stories.

It is true though, I have found myself stuck, stranded and lost more times than I’d want to count, but, so far at least, I have made it back relatively intact.

Like finding yourself at the bottom of a steep cliff as darkness is falling, or seeing row after row of homeless camps or facing paralyzing debt, situations can vaporize any sense of hope or possibility of progress.

But that sensation too, is temporary.

Those homeless camps have not been there forever.

That debt has not always been on the books.

We got there by a thousand steps. And another thousand or so, will take us into another direction.

We just need to be a bit more deliberate – and focused.

And patient.

Whatever direction we go, a thousand steps takes time.

Most of us have come to love, or expect, quick solutions or results.

But look carefully.

Few things worth keeping, from friendships to home grown tomatoes, or any skill from music to carpentry, come quickly.

The short-term, the quick-fix, and the glittering promise will always distract us if we let it.

The way out of any situation, no matter how dire or intimidating, is to focus and persist, and use every tool in the tool box. Or even maybe even make your own.

You never know what you are capable of until you find yourself up against what had been, until then, an impossible situation. You’ll never find out how resourceful and resilient you can be until you need to be.

Prepare for the unexpected.

It is out there waiting for you.