Tools of the Trade

I first encountered this paradigm fairly soon after I started working with Warwick Business School as a tutor for Distance Learning MBA students.

I was tutoring in Market Analysis – a complex but very well understood area. So much so that there are a myriad of ‘tools’ that analysts use to help understand the market their company, or client, is operating in.

There’s the well-known SWOT analysis, then there’s PEST (Political, Economic, Sociological, Technological) external influences on your market, and Michael Porter’s ‘5 Forces’ reflecting internal influences, The ‘Boston Box’ analysis tool, and many more.

These, and a good few others, are the ‘toolbox’ of Market Analysis.

And at home we all have a toolbox – even if it only consists of a hammer and a screwdriver! We have all the tools that we need to fix stuff around the house – except of course that one tool that we don’t have, or can’t find’, when an emergency ‘fixing’ situation occurs!

Even if your tool box is simply a trusty Swiss Army knife we all have a toolbox.

And don’t forget the First Aid kit – that’s a toolbox as well.

And the make up kit, body care kit, cleaning kit, and all the other sets of ‘tools’ we surround ourselves with.

Back to what I observed with my MBA students.

During the course they were presented with some different ‘situations’ and asked either to provide a set of alternative solutions or to describe how they would approach whatever it was.

Time and time again when marking their assignments, I was presented with a detailed description of all the tools and how they worked and then they set about applying all the tools to the question in hand.

D’oh!

What we really wanted them to do was to select the one, maybe two, tools that were appropriate and relevant to the task.

Not try to put up a shelf with a hammer, a screwdriver, a chisel, a spanner and a drill – all at the same time!

The art of using tools is to know which tool to use in a particular situation.

But that’s not all, you and I also need to know how to use the tool and have some skill in using it.

Knowing ‘how’ is not enough.

You can’t suddenly ride a bike or go swimming when you only know ‘how’ – you need the skills as well.

And the skills of course, however rudimentary can only be acquired by doing.

But that’s not the only thing.

There’s something else.

This is particularly noticeable in the personal development ‘industry’ but also in marketing practice as well.

People will take tried and tested techniques of coaching, advertising, lead generation, therapy and business and personal analysis and ‘develop’ them.

This isn’t about ‘re-inventing the wheel, nor is it about improving the wheel, it’s about bolting several different sized wheels (designed to do different jobs) together to create some sort of ‘super-wheel’ that does ‘everything’!

About modifying tried and tested techniques by bolting them together, shaving bits off here and there and re-engineering the process.

Never works.

Sometimes looks good, even looks like it might work, but it never does.

Not to the extent that the original tools used separately would have done.

All people achieve by doing this is to make a set of a few simple, sometimes unrelated, talks into one complicated task.

And of course this ‘ultimate solution’ is more expensive than the simple solutions put together.

Every situation, whether that’s coaching, marketing, business analysis, personal therapy, personality analysis, lead generation, advertising or whatever is different.

They all exhibit similar issues, maybe symptoms, but they are different and need to be approached in different, specific, ways.

It’s not a ‘one size fits all’ scenario.

Hybrid therapies, hybrid coaching techniques, hybrid marketing or analysis techniques just don’t work nearly as well as the ‘original’ tried and tested processes.

Even when we deploy our Swiss Army knife we select just one tool, the right tool for the job, on that knife.

Situations may of course require different tools to be used at different times but not at the same time.

You can’t screw the screw in at the same time as drilling the hole – although you might use the same device to power both of those operations – you have to stop and change from the drill bit to the screwdriver bit.

It’s the same with everything else.

All that you and I need to know is

  • What is the ‘job’?
  • What’s the right tool for that job?
  • If we need more than one tool, what order do we use them in?
  • Do we know how to use the tool?
  • Are we skilled at using the tool?

If any of the answers is unknown, then do we know someone who can help or do it for us?

Until someone comes up with an original new way to do something, (and the do and will continue to do so) what’s out there is fit for purpose.

What you and I have to do is to use whatever is available to get the job done.

Inventing a ‘better way’ is secondary and only holds us up.