If you only have a hammer…

To the man who only has a hammer, everything he encounters begins to look like a nail. -Abraham Maslow

Also seen : If you only have a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.

What does that mean?
As an amateur carpenter, this is a funny quote. I have (more than once, I must admit) used a hammer to put a screw in due to a lack of screwdriver. But the root of the saying is a bit more serious.

This quote applies to many aspects of our lives. Drive a station wagon, and pretty soon you see a lot of station wagons. Buy a new pair of shoes, and pretty soon you’re seeing dozens of other people with the same shoes.

We tend to notice things that are similar, even if they’re not exactly the same. That is part of human nature. If you have a hammer, you start seeing nails. If you had a screw driver, you start looking for things to screw up. 8)

Why is observation important?
We tend to group things for ease of processing. Nails & Screws both fasten things together and are long and skinny. People with similar accents or speaking the same language tend to get grouped together. After you group things, you can either use that for good or ill. Grouping people and then treating them badly is frowned upon in most of the civilized world.

Someone who is observant might notice the difference between the Spanish being spoken by the people of Madrid and the Spanish being spoken by the residents of Cabo San Lucas.

Someone who is observant might also notice the difference not just between a screw and a nail, but between brads, finishing nails, common nails and the many specialty nails that exist. Some of those nails use special hammers, so not every nail fits every hammer.

Being observant means noticing these and other differences. One size does not fit all. Everyone and everything is different, even identical twins. Noticing the differences between people and objects can be important to proper analysis of a situation or problem.

Where can I apply this in my life?
What is happening that you are seeing but not observing? There is too much going on for our brains to process. The human mind is, as much as anything else, a deletion filter. Everything that isn’t considered important is deleted.

The classic example of this is the two color trick. Look for everything in the room you are in that is blue. Look some more, make a mental list of everything that is blue. Look closely, you don’t want to miss anything blue. Now, without looking around again, write down everything in the room that was red. Odds are you could list many times more blue things than red, even if there were more red things in the room. You focused your observation on things that were blue, and red items were deleted.

What is your hammer, and how does that shape your observations? My hammer is logic, and I tend to approach every problem from a logical standpoint. That doesn’t always work well when dealing with a child who just had a nightmare. My kids (and to a lesser extent, my wife) have been helping me see past my observational blind spots and helping me learn alternative strategies.

Write down your primary hammer (or hammers, if you have more than one). Can’t think of one? Start by writing down the last four or five arguments you got into, and see if you see a common approach you took either in entering the argument or in the fighting of the argument. I’ve found that as long as I am observant, I can usually avoid arguments by noticing where the other person is coming from and working with them instead of against them.

With a hammer in your hand, how does your observation of the world change? What are you looking for and how are you warping things to help them look more like a nail? Write a few notes about how your hammer changes your view of the world and then consider how you might work resist these changes.

I tend to use conscious competence as my primary method to help with observation. As always, this requires me to notice that I’m not being as skillful as I could be before I can take corrective action. It might help to be aware of when you most often pick up your hammer, so that you can use that as a clue that you are entering a “nail rich zone” and be on your guard.

For each way you have listed as an attempt to resist the changes in your observations when your hammer is in your hand, come up with a phrase you can use to help you remember you are looking for something other than nails. For me, being a bit of a geek, when I feel a logic attack forming, I use Obi-Wan’s line “Luke, trust your feelings” to remind me that there are methods of persuasion that don’t rely on logic.

Being observant often means noticing the little things, the beginnings of things. Notice when someone is beginning to be annoyed at your use of your hammer, and get a different tool out of the tool box. If you have a pair of pliers in your hand, I wonder what everything starts to look like? Hmmmmm.

From: Twitter, @MotivateDaily
confirmed at : http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/a/abrahammas126079.html
Photo by justinbaeder

About KC King

I am a thinker, who is spending some time examining those short twitter quotes in greater detail on my blog.
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