Elevate Your Mind.
Through the Re:Mind Newsletter, delivered every other Tuesday, we unleash your full potential and upgrade decision-making. We’ll explore mental models and life design.
By Juan Carlos
If you only have a hammer, then everything looks like a nail. Folks mistakenly use Maslow’s hammer by applying a familiar solution to every problem.
Why Use It
Over-relying on one tool comes at the expense of employing a more suitable one.
When to Use It
“Man with a hammer” syndrome is a subconscious process where, instead of considering options, individuals return to solutions that have worked previously without thought or hesitation.
For example, a physical therapist might recommend non-surgical treatments for a torn muscle, where a surgeon would recommend surgery. Each party is subject to its own bias.
In another scenario, a psychiatrist might over-prescribe antipsychotic drugs to patients who suffer from mental illnesses that would not benefit from this treatment.
When it comes to software, it’s easy to fall into these anti-patterns. An engineer might prefer specific languages or comfortable tools that might not be the best choice for a project. Without realizing it, they embrace solutions that are both ineffective and counterproductive.
This type of scenario plays out in all professions and walks of life.
How to Use It
Take more time when considering a problem and its potential solution. Get to know the space and concerns surrounding the issue.
Engaging in multi-disciplinary education will place more solutions at your disposal and ultimately mitigate the risk of being over-reliant on your “hammer.” Increase your knowledge, grow your circle of competence, and organize your “tools” for better use.
How to Misuse It
Just because a hammer is not the right choice for screws doesn’t mean there aren’t nails out there waiting to be hammered. The point is to think about what is the right tool for the job. Don’t discount the hammer altogether; you might just find a nail.
Next time you have a problem and you’re looking in the proverbial tool shed for a solution, take a look around. Maybe you need a wrench or a screwdriver, or pliers, or a saw, or a mallet, or something else entirely. If you have all those options in your head, then surely you’ll know which is the right fit.
Where it Came From
Maslow’s hammer, aka Maslow’s gavel, aka golden hammer, aka man with a hammer syndrome, aka law of the hammer, aka law of the instrument, was introduced by Abraham Maslow in 1966. He is better known for the hierarchy of needs that models human fulfillment.
Decades later, Charlie Munger expanded on theory in his speech, “A Lesson on Elementary, Worldly Wisdom as It Relates to Investment Management and Business.”
Unlock Clear Thinking
Fueled by a passion for storytelling and excitement for life design, I find joy in reframing narratives to illuminate paths toward fulfillment. My experience spans high-growth startups, filmmaking, and social impact, culminating in my authorship of “Mind Guide: 49 Mental Models for Effective Decision Making.” Through mentoring and coaching, I guide teams and individuals to discover purpose and cultivate a meaningful life.
I started in film, directing award-winning features such as ‘Know How’ and ‘Second Skin.’ These cinematic endeavors earned me recognition and allowed me to serve as a spokesperson for Adobe. I founded the White Roof Project, a grassroots climate activism campaign that mitigated the urban heat island effect and spurred community-led social change.
I carried my storytelling skills and passion for societal transformation as I transitioned into the startup ecosystem. Initially, I contributed to social impact apps, converting complex issues into accessible solutions. This early experience laid a foundation for my later work, where I led the development of groundbreaking products within high-growth startups. My work has underscored the potential of technology to innovate industries and amplify the quality of human life.