I recently finished a book in which one scientist references the Handy Hammer Syndrome:
‘When you’ve got a hammer in your hand, everything looks like a nail.’
He’s referencing some research by a student who claimed (against established thought) that early man evolved into runners, but the scientist knew the student was an avid runner himself (so he was using the hammer in his hand).
Let’s look at a few cases* of the Handy Hammer in web-tech:
- Google’s hammer is Gmail. They used it to hammer away at social and are failing miserably with Buzz.
- Twitter’s hammer
iswas its developer API. Without it, Twitter would not be where it is today, but after their recent announcement to acquire Tweetie, the Twitter developer community is not happy at all and scared for the future.
- Facebook’s hammer is the social graph. They’re banging away furiously now and users are not psyched about their data being collected and used without first opting in.
In each case, these companies are using the hammers in their hands to bang at problems that may actually need a screwdriver, or a wrench… or no tool at all.
Though it’s not necessarily the right approach, it’s pretty natural. Think about anything you’ve done in your life, any problem you’ve solved. You likely have a few standard answers or remedies for any given situation… but that doesn’t mean it’s the right solution.
People rely on their hammers (their strengths), settle into habits and consequently develop a weak tool-belt for creatively solving problems.
Think about yourself, are you using the same hammer for every problem? Next time think twice and make sure you’re using the right tool for the job…
*Note: These companies have more than one hammer, but I picked these cases as they are the most current examples.