Clean Thinking

I can fix that: Law of the instrument bias

“If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

This bias is familiar to me. I’m totally guilty of this one. When I learn something new that is truly inspiring, I want to try to apply it to everything, even if perhaps not everything would benefit from it.

One client of mine learned some database programming in a previous job, and she fell in love with the building blocks, the problem solving, the customization of it all – so much so that when she interviewed for her next job, the employer noted in the interview process that my client felt that building a database would solve any issue they had! (It was not a detriment to my client – her enthusiasm and confidence in the interview was so infectious that she got the job and was incredibly successful there.)

The pro tip here is to understand the conditions or characteristics of a situation under which an instrument should be applied. Keep an eye out for those, then you know you aren’t artificially applying a tool when it certainly won’t fix the problem.


One caveat: I am a BIG fan of applying concepts of one thing to another thing. In fact, I believe this connection between two disparate thoughts is the very definition of creativity. However, the law of instrument bias applies when the application isn’t a purposeful, thoughtful exercise. Creativity is mindful of the conditions and how the concepts should be applied to achieve an effect. Bias is thoughtless.

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