I’ve long known the adage “When you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail” but I’ve only recently come to appreciate its truth.
As I’ve mentioned on this blog before, my main client for the last year and a half has been OpenHatch, for whom I’ve been organizing events and event series. (I do many other things for them but the event series are my biggest focus.) A few months ago I was chatting with science librarian Thea Atwood about the disappointing lack of interest in open science at most of the Five College schools, especially my alma mater, Hampshire. We decided to throw together an event in mid-October to address that.
Event-planning has become a “hammer” for me: a tool for addressing problems that feels easy and natural. When I see an issue that could plausibly be fixed by throwing an event, I instinctively think about doing so.
I have several other hammers. The first one I picked up was writing stories. I write for fun, yes, but I also write to fix problems: my first novel is a way of articulating flaws in libertarianism, my children’s book is a response to the way society was gendering my best friends’ children, and my current project is meant to encourage girls to go into technology.
In college, I gained another hammer: doing experiments. When I have a question, I often design in my head the process that would allow me to answer it, whether that’s observation, controlled manipulation, or analysis of pre-existing data. Sometimes I even get to carry out these experiments, though of course that was more common when I worked at a lab.
When I learned to program, I added the hammer of “make a website!” though my grip can be somewhat shaky. I tend to brainstorm static websites, simple apps, or sites that use basic mysql-style databases because that’s what I feel comfortable creating. There’s still a great deal to web development that I’m unfamiliar with and therefore don’t think of when faced with a problem.
Which brings me to my worry: with so many tools in my belt, do I have a false sense of security that I’m choosing the best method for approaching a particular problem? There are still so many approaches I can’t take. My response to a problem is almost never “Make a business!” or “Create a physical object!” or “Write a song!” or “Check/change the law!”, because those aren’t things that I know how to do.
The next time I think of a story, an experiment, a website or an event as the best answer to a given problem, I want to take a step back and think about what the best solution really is. I want to force myself to come up with an approach that is outside my comfort zone. And I want to keep improving my toolset.
What are your hammers, and what hammers do you wish you had?